Published on May 25, 2021
Memories are made of this
Blooms are an added attraction to growing potatoes
By Jan Edwards
Its delicate purple petals in full bloom glisten in sunshine. They surround a yellow center that creates a nice contrast. Other flowers around it are getting ready to bloom.
The flower belongs in a vase, but it is actually on a potato vine.
I’m trying to grow “new” potatoes in my “experimental” container this year. When I went down to water them recently, there it was - a bloom. At first, I thought it was a weed in the container. But I took a second look, and sure enough, the potato plant had flowered.
I didn’t know potatoes made flowers. I remember planting them in Mom’s garden when I was a kid, but I don’t ever remember seeing them bloom.
I had to do some research to see what was going on.
The flowering means the vines are mature enough to start forming tubers - the potato we eat. It’s not a sign the potatoes are ready to pull; you must wait until all the vines die and turn brown before the potato is ready for harvesting.
Potatoes and tomatoes are like distant cousins with different lifestyles. One is dull, bulky and thrives underground; the other is colorful and elegant, hanging on a vine while growing into the tasty treat most of us enjoy.
Occasionally, the potato flower (which looks strikingly like a tomato flower except for the color) will mature into a berry-like fruit. If you cut it open, I read, it will look like a small tomato inside. It is not edible. In fact, it is toxic.
Most of the time, the potato fruit just dries up and goes away. That’s what mine seem to be doing. I understand that potatoes bloom if they get too much fertilizer or the plants experience cold nighttime temperatures. Since mine started blooming after the cold fronts with that strong north wind, I’m assuming my plants bloomed because of cold nights.
If you do get berries on your potatoes, know that they contain solanine – a poisonous substance that can cause illness in humans. Even though your plant is growing the berries, the potato itself is not affected and is not poisonous.
The potato berry looks a lot like a cherry tomato. So, especially if you have young children around, pick the fruit off and throw it away.
If you can save the seeds from the potato fruit and grow them next season, they won’t produce the same kind of potato as the parent plant. I also learned that I shouldn’t plant potatoes in the same vessel with the same soil more than two years in a row.
My Mom had always told me to cut the green portions off a potato and throw them away – that they were bad. I never knew to what extent before I investigated my flowering potatoes.
If you are tempted to eat any part of the potato that grows on top of the soil, or the potato berry, it would not be advisable. Solanine can cause upset stomachs, headaches, delirium, shock, paralysis and sometimes even more serious problems.
Eating a potato with green flesh or skin – or that is sprouting – can also cause you some grief. Cut off the green part, and the rest of the tuber is still good to eat. Throw away or plant a potato that is sprouting.
Who knew I would learn so much about potatoes from wondering why it bloomed?
(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: email@example.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)