The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Sweet potato flowers

Sweet potato flowerOne of our sweet potato plants started blooming last week, clearly illustrating the plant's relationship to morning glories.  I'd never seen sweet potato flowers before, so I poked around on the web to see if I should cut off the blooms the way you do with garlic.

It turns out that sweet potato flowers are extremely unusual, and are actually in pretty high demand.  Since sweet potatoes are propagated vegetatively, it's hard to develop new varieties.  Blooms add an element of randomness to the plant's reproduction --- a lot of the seeds will probably turn into shoddy or mediocre plants, but one of the seeds might just turn out to be the next best thing in sweet potato land.

Scientists have tried a lot of tricks to get sweet potatoes to flower, and one of the most effective seems to be high humidity combined with damp soil.  Check!  Another method they've tried involves clipping off the ends of sweet potato vines, hoping to stimulate apical bud growth.  Since the deer got in and nibbled our sweet potatoes once before we added a deer deterrent to that part of the garden, we accidentally used that method too.

I plan to collect the seeds from our sweet potato flowers and give them a shot next year.  Maybe we'll develop a new variety of sweet potato and name it after Huckleberry!

Shame-faced plug: To me, the best part of the Avian Aqua Miser is that it's an automatic chicken waterer.  If you put a couple in a small tractor, you won't have to worry about water for days on end.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Perhaps the day length is a determining factor, as these are very tropical plants. Mine are in full bloom now (here in the tropics), currently the day length here is around 12 hours 45 mins.
Comment by Anonymous Mon Dec 31 08:51:19 2012
I have these same blooms here with my 1st attempt to grow sweet potatoes and yams in my garden I planted them both together, so i wanted to search the web for info on the blooms in order to make a determination on wether they belong to the yams, or the sweet potatoes.. seems that despite research, i still am never certain that what i purchase to eat, or as they grow, no can seem to determine with certainty which is which.. if there is a way to tell one from the other either as a tuber of a plant, i would like to know... i planted so called yams, japanese purple sweet potatoes, and regular sweet potatoes.
Comment by lemon james Mon Sep 9 16:32:45 2013
Lemon James --- Sweet potatoes and yams are very different, despite the fact that some people use the terms interchangeably. I've never grown true yams, and they're less likely to be found in American gardens or grocery stores. To get an idea for the difference, try doing a google image search for the scientific name of each --- Dioscorea for yams and Ipomoea batatas for sweet potatoes. I wouldn't be surprised if all your plants are sweet potatoes. If their blooms look like the one shown here, they are definitely not yams.
Comment by anna Tue Sep 10 13:30:09 2013
My sweet potatoes are in full bloom this is the second year that I have them in the garden. Last year they didn't bloom, I moved from the ground to raised beds. The potatoes are much larger better quality and profuse they have runners 10 feet long and have moved into the other beds all by them selves without any help. Every junction has potatoes, last year I pulled up some of the very small tubers they were about two inches long about 25 of them and cured and stored and this is what I used for my new beds this year. My sweet potatoes have done super well. And get very sweet in about 3 days after digging up, I don't dig up the plants I go around and snip only the potatoe off and leave the runners in place so that the smaller ones further down the vine can produce the little tubers for my new plants next year, that's what I did last year.
Comment by Dalia Castello Mon Oct 20 09:23:35 2014
I am a new gardener here in New Jersey, I planted a bunch of seeds and all of them bloomed, but I planted sweet potato slips. I have numerous golden ladybugs, also I have so many BEAUTIFUL sweet potato flowers...I was reading and some said it was rare...I Can make a bouquet of sweet potato flowers....please comment
Comment by Jack Mcglown Sun Jul 12 12:30:40 2015
I did my own sweet potato slips this year, I planted almost 36 slip, I didn't water but like once a week but we have had a lot of humidity, I noticed the flowers, did my research and found out that it is rare to have the flowers but since we had a lot of humidity I am blessed to have them cant wait to harvest then cure them so super excited to plant next year.
Comment by Cindy Fri Sep 4 11:51:32 2015
My first year ever planting 🍠 sweet potato plants abt 6 years ago they bloomed and I was in awe over the flowers. I didn’t know to save the seeds from the flowers and those sweet potatoes were the sweetest and best my family has ever eaten. I have been searching for that variety ever since. It indeed was the Purple Japenese Variety.
Comment by Janie Thu Feb 15 16:06:22 2018
It’s October 2 here and I just found a bloom on one of my plants. It’s been pretty cool this week. The soil is still fairly moist from rainfall earlier this week and it was fairly humid earlier in the week. I hope I can save the seeds. Thanks for the informative post!
Comment by Rachel Fri Oct 2 14:30:13 2020

I've had pruple an green vines in my garden for many years... Love love this beautiful plant Just outside this morning an a bright spot to begin my day ,,,a light purple first ever A happy start to begin my day. Thanks to one an all for your reads an articles about this beautiful plant

Comment by Cheryl Lightfoot Wed Oct 28 09:05:39 2020

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