Sweet Potato's History & Origin


HISTORY: Sweet potato has a rich history and interesting origin. It is one of the oldest vegetables known to mankind.

Scientists believe that sweet potato was domesticated thousands of years ago in Central America.

After his first voyage to the Americas in 1492, Christopher Columbus took sweet potatoes back home to Europe.

The crop was introduced into China in the late 16th century and spread through Asia, Africa, and Latin America during the 17th and 18th centuries.

It's hardy, has broad adaptability, and its planting material can be multiplied quickly from very few roots. It is now grown in more developing countries than any other root crop.

ORIGIN: Sweet potato is not a potato; and, yam and sweet potato are not the same. More history and origin --- Click for differences between yam, sweet potato, and potato.

Sweet potato is from the Morningglory (Convolvulaceae) plant family. Its correct spelling is "sweetpotato" one word. As a crop it is totally different from a potato (Solanum tuberosum) and from a yam - "nyami" (Dioscoreaceae).


Sweetpotato - Morningglory (Courtesy of CIP)

After much discussion and consideration, we decided to use the generally accepted two-word spelling throughout this site.

Sweet potato has secondary centers of genetic diversity. These are geographical areas where the crop evolved separately from its American ancestors.

In Papua New Guinea and in other parts of Asia, many types of sweet potato can be found that are genetically distinct from those found in the Americas.

It's unclear as to how sweet potato got to the southwest Pacific. Some researchers believe European explorers took them there; others believe sweet potato was moved from island to island across the Pacific by indigenous people.

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