The Fascinating Journey of Potato Plant Flowering

Potato Plant Flowering

Potato plants have a secret quest – to reproduce and create a new generation of themselves. That’s why they produce beautiful flowers that mark the beginning of their fruitful journey. But what purpose do these flowers serve, and can we eat the fruit they bear? Let’s delve into the captivating world of potato plant flowering.

The Purpose Behind Potato Plant Flowering

Potato plants flower as a part of their reproductive cycle. When we harvest potatoes, we are not digging up their fruits. The actual potatoes are tubers that can be eaten or stored to grow new plants. On the other hand, the fruits grow on the stems of the plants after the flowers have bloomed, been pollinated, and withered away. Potatoes possess the ability to reproduce through their tubers, which can survive underground during the winter and sprout the following year. However, they can also reproduce through seeds. Although growing potatoes from seeds is more challenging, most people opt for seed potatoes, which ensure a direct copy of the parent plant.

Potatoes, however, like to increase their chances of survival. They produce seeds that, when mature, can be dispersed by the wind, birds, and wildlife, enabling them to take root and yield a new generation of cross-pollinated potato plants.

The Enigmatic Beauty of Potato Flowers

Potato Flowers

Potato flowers exhibit a range of colors, from white and pink to royal purple, and they can even be red or bluish. Interestingly, the flowers of potatoes bear a striking resemblance to those of tomatoes and peppers. This resemblance can be attributed to the fact that these plants belong to the nightshade family, which explains their similar appearance.

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Potato flowers typically have five petals that can either be round or pointed. They come in various colors, including white, pastel pink, and dark purple. The stamen, the part protruding from the center of the flower, is bright yellow. While many flowers drop off without being pollinated, if the potato flowers do get pollinated, you will witness the formation of fruit that resembles small green cherry tomatoes.

Potato Flowers

The Deceptive Nature of Potato Fruits

Although potato fruits may look tempting, caution is necessary. They, along with the flowers, leaves, and stems, contain high levels of solanine, a glycoalkaloid poison. Ingesting any part of the potato plant, apart from the tubers, can lead to solanine poisoning, which can cause severe illness and, in extreme cases, death. Symptoms of solanine poisoning include stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, delirium, fever, hallucinations, headache, confusion, loss of sensation, low body temperature, shock, paralysis, vision problems, and slow respiration. Therefore, it is crucial to avoid consuming potato fruits or any other non-tuber parts of the plant.

The Significance of Potato Plant Flowering

Potato plants typically begin to flower towards the end of their growing season, indicating their approaching maturity. Apart from signaling the readiness of the plant to produce seeds, flowering also suggests that it is almost time to harvest the potatoes. Flowering potatoes serve as an indicator that the growing season is in full swing and that tuber growth is underway. However, it is advisable to exercise patience and allow the tubers to mature fully, as this leads to a more bountiful harvest. If the conditions are favorable, such as warm soil temperature, minimal wet weather, and ample sunlight, waiting for the potatoes to reach their peak ensures a larger and more satisfying yield.

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The Timing of Potato Harvest

Potatoes Ready to Harvest

Potatoes can be dug up right after the plant flowers, but this may yield small, thin-skinned potatoes known as new potatoes. While new potatoes are a delightful treat, the return on investment is relatively low. To maximize potato yield, it is best to wait for mature potatoes to flower. The peak tuber formation occurs after the plants have reached full maturity. Plant flowering acts as an indication of nearing readiness, but the potatoes are not at their maximum potential yet.

Consider this: new potatoes typically yield between 1 and 5 pounds for every pound planted, while mature potatoes yield 15 to 20 pounds for every pound planted. Waiting for the potato tubers to mature and develop fully ensures the biggest and best possible harvest. While it is tempting to dig up a few plants early to enjoy the delectable tiny and thin-skinned potatoes, many gardeners prefer to remove only the usable tubers and replant the underground stems or stolons to maximize their overall yield.

Before digging up the main crop potatoes, it is advisable to wait for the potato plants to start dying back, which usually occurs around 2 to 6 weeks after flowering. As the plants dry out, lose their color, shed fruits and leaves, and begin to collapse, it is the perfect time to harvest the potatoes. The harvested potatoes should then be cured before being stored, while the parent plant can be composted or dug back into the soil.

The Choice to Harvest Before Flowering

Although it is possible to harvest potatoes before they flower, this would result in a smaller yield of new potatoes. The earlier the harvest, the fewer pounds of potatoes are obtained. Generally, harvesting before flowering may yield less than one pound for every pound planted. Although new potatoes are delicious when their skin easily rubs off, the significant reduction in yield makes it less worthwhile to harvest before flowering.

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The Joy of Letting Potato Plants Flower

There is no reason to prevent your potato plants from flowering. Allowing them to produce flowers is their way of informing you that the harvest time is approaching. Embrace the beauty of their blossoms and wait for the perfect moment to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Non-Flowering Potato Plants

Not all potato plants produce flowers, as some varieties may not flower at all, or flowering may be dependent on specific conditions. However, this is not a cause for concern. Potatoes can still grow tubers even if they do not flower. While it is possible to grow potatoes from seed to create new hybrid varieties, most people prefer to grow them from seed potatoes to maintain consistency with the parent plant.

So next time you spot the enchanting flowers of your potato plants, remember the intricate journey they embark on to ensure their survival and the delicious harvest that awaits you. Just be sure to savor the tubers and steer clear of the poisonous fruits and other parts of the plant. Happy potato growing!

Ames Farm Center