1902 Encyclopedia > Sweet Potato

Sweet Potato

SWEET POTATO. This plant (the Convolvulus batatas, or Ipomosa batatas of some authors) is generally cultivated in the West Indies and most tropical countries for the sake of its tuberous root, which is an article of diet greatly in request. It is a climbing perennial with cordate, entire, or palmately-lobed leaves borne on slender twining stems. The flowers are borne on long stalks in loose clusters or cymes, and have a white or rosy funnel-shaped corolla like that of the common bindweed of English hedges. The edible portion is the root, which dilates into large club-shaped masses filled with starch. It is ill suited to the climate of the United Kingdom, but in tropical countries it is as valuable as the potato is in higher latitudes. The plant is not known in a truly wild state, nor has its origin been ascertained. A. de Candolle con-cludes that it is in all probability of American origin, though dispersed in Japan, China, the South Sea Islands, Australia, <fec. Its migrations are only explained by him on geological grounds of an entirely hypothetical character. It is mentioned by Gerard as the "potato," or "potatus," or "potades" in contradistinction to the "potatoes" of Virginia (Solarium tuberosum). He grew it in his garden, but the climate was not warm enough to allow it to flower, and in winter it perished and rotted. But as the appella-tion "common" is applied to them the roots must have been introduced commonly. Gerard tells us he bought those that he planted at " the Exchange in London," and lie gives an interesting account of the uses to which they were put, the manner in which they were prepared as " sweetmeats," and the invigorating properties assigned to them. The allusions in the Merry Wives of Windsor and other of Shakespeare's plays in all probability refer to this plant, and not to what we now call the "potato."

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