Solanum tuberosum: Potato

Family: Solanaceae
Common name: Potato

Humans started eating potatoes about 10,000 years back and we still haven’t had enough of it. This starchy, tuberous vegetable grows almost everywhere in the world, and is used in cooking in various forms. They are eaten cooked, fried, roasted, baked, steamed and in many other forms.

Potato plants grow to a height of about 2 feet with bright green leaves. Flowers are very beautiful and come in a variety of colors like white, purple, pink, red or blue depending on the the species. These flowers are attractive to bees and insects, that help pollinate them.

After pollination, the flowers form small green fruits containing 200-300 small seeds. Interestingly, all parts of the plant including leaves, flowers and fruits contain a toxic substance called solanine, and hence cannot be eaten.

The leaves of the potato plant wither and die after flower and tuber formation. Potato plants are nightshades, like tomatoes and eggplants where the flowers and fruits are poisonous.

Did you know that there are over 5000 varieties of potatoes in the world, varying in size, shape, color and texture? Common ones are the Russet potatoes, purple potatoes, yellow potatoes, white potatoes, red potatoes, Fingerling and Petite potatoes.

Potato is the 4th largest food crop, having over 5000 different varieties. Plants with white flowers usually have the creamish-brown tubers we are mostly familiar with. And plants with pink, red, blue or purple flowers produce potatoes with different skin colors.

There are so many dishes produced worldwide from potatoes like the french fries, mashed potatoes, hash browns, baked potatoes, Shepherd’s pie, Patatas bravas, Dum aloo, Aloo mutter and the list goes on and on.

Propagation is done from seeds or by planting small pieces of the potato having one of two eyelets, from where the new plant grows.