(04/08/20) CHASE, La. — Hobby growers have a new edible option for their ornamental gardens by way of a Louisiana favorite: the sweet potato.
Developed by LSU AgCenter breeders in collaboration with FitzGerald Nurseries, of Kilkenny, Ireland, the sweet potato selections are marketed in North America through Concept Plants and in Europe by FitzGerald as Treasure Island sweet potatoes.
The breakthrough ornamentals are the first edible and ornamental sweet potatoes to hit the market and were recently recognized with a Green Thumb Award in the Edible Plants category from the Direct Gardening Association.
“Our intention was to develop a series of sweet potato plants with everything from white and orange to purple flesh, and we really tried to capture a lot of different looks with foliage,” said LSU AgCenter plant breeder Don La Bonte.
The new varietal selections under a FitzGerald Nurseries and Graines Voltz entry were also awarded a “coup de coeur” at the Concours Innovert competition during the salon du vegetal show, one of Europe’s leading garden plant shows held in France. The term “un coup de coeur” literally translates as “a blow to the heart,” commonly used as an expression of sudden, strong attraction or passion for something.
While Louisiana consumers have long recognized sweet potatoes for their versatility in favorites like fries, pies and sides, the edible ornamental varieties also provide nutritious leaves for colorful and tasty additions to salads, stir-fries and smoothies.
The tuberous sweet potato root is widely considered a nutritional superfood as a good source of vitamins B and C and is high in fiber, iron, calcium and antioxidants.
The edible leaves of the Treasure Island varieties are also high in lutein, a carotenoid found in high quantities in spinach, kale and carrots, La Bonte said.
The plants are easy to grow, perform well over a wide range of growing conditions and offer the added bonus of an edible root harvest in the fall, he said.
Perfect in landscapes, especially where space is an issue, a broad range of foliage colors from showy chartreuse to deep purple will give growers many options.
The outer skin of the tubers also varies in shape and color from deep purple to light orange, while flesh colors vary from white to light and dark oranges to purple.
Sweet potatoes are not planted from seed but from plugs or slips, which are small rooted pieces of tuber produced from cuttings.
“The trick with a sweet potato plug is to bury it deeper than the original plug depth to capture a couple of the fresh nodes underground so fresh, more attractively shaped roots will develop,” La Bonte said.
The Treasure Island sweet potato line will feature five varieties, each named for islands in French Polynesia, including Kaukura, Makatea, Manihi, Tatakoto and Tahiti.
“Plants are available for the first time in 2020 in Europe and USA in limited numbers,” said FitzGerald Nurseries owner Pat FitzGerald.
The new varieties are being test marketed in the U.S. in 2020 with a wider distribution planned in 2021.
Gardeners can purchase plants through local garden stores and mail order via Thompson and Morgan, U.K., FitzGerald said. In Europe, growers can buy planting material through FitzGerald Nurseries, Graines Voltz and Histhil.
Treasure Island Kaukura ornamental sweet potatoes produce tubers with orange-colored flesh from plants with deep purple foliage. Photo courtesy of FitzGerald Nurseries, Kilkenny, Ireland
Treasure Island Makatea ornamental sweet potatoes produce showy, chartreuse-colored foliage. Photo courtesy of FitzGerald Nurseries, Kilkenny, Ireland
Different varieties of Treasure Island ornamental sweet potatoes offer a variety of foliage presentations in mixed containers with other vegetables and herbs. Photo courtesy of FitzGerald Nurseries, Kilkenny, Ireland