by Johanna Silver, Sunset Test Garden Coordinator
Have you ever smelled a potato flower? I'm serious. Who would have guessed that those hardy tubers produce a flower with such a delicate and pleasant scent? I had my nose buried in the Yukon Golds the other day, happily sniffing the potato blossoms when - what's this? Potato fruit?
There were clusters of green, grape-sized fruit hanging off some of the plants. This is not something I've ever experienced with potato cultivation. I panicked. Does this mean that, similar to when onion or garlic produces a flower, more energy will go to the flower than the part under the ground that I want to bulk up? Should I pick them off? Is it too late? Is my crop ruined?
Greg Lutovsky of Irish Eyes Garden Seeds saved the day and answered my frantic phone call. Simply put, sometimes potatoes flower and fruit, and sometimes they don't. It is a totally unpredictable occurrence in the field, and it matters not. The amount and size of tubers in unaffected. Moreover, being part of the nightshade family, those seed pods are actually poisonous.
Just as I was starting to lose all interest in them whatsoever, Greg revealed their magic. If you've ever planted potatoes you know that we grow from tuber rather than seed. This is because each of those 240 seeds inside that pod can grow into entirely different varieties due to hundreds of years of cross breeding and pollination. Tubers are the only predictable way to grow the same variety from a parent plant. Those seed pods, however, are grown out by universities and research institutions to develop brand new varieties with new flavors, colors, and characteristics. It takes several years of cultivation until that new variety is bred thoroughly and can be grown predictably from tuber.