Field of Science

Yams are not sweet potatoes and vice versa!

There in the 1st chapter of this book on plants is the phrase, “consider sweet potatoes in the genus Dioscorea” (Food of the Gods by T. McKenna), but considering the pseudoscientific approach this author takes such errors are not unexpected (must be his non-rational reality – seriously). So the Phytophactor shall endeavor to straighten this out.
Sweet potatoes are not yams; Dioscorea is the genus of yams, one of which is pictured here. Sweet potatoes are Ipomea batatas in the morning glory family (dicots). Yams are monocots. Sweet potatoes are storage roots (although at the root-stem junction) and yams are modified stems (tubers). See the nodes (“eyes”)? What you get in North American markets are sweet potatoes, and yes, the larger, fleshier varieties are called “yams” but they aren’t yams. And those “candied” yams in cans are sweet potatoes too.

The discerning among you will have noticed that the native name for sweet potatoes "batatas" was preserved in the scientific name, and you guessed it, this common name was misapplied by Europeans to another plant native to the same region (Peruvian South America) Solanum tuberosa, the "potato", which is not Irish in the least.


Anonymous said...

Isn't it also true that yams simply aren't found in North America?


The Phytophactor said...

An interesting question, and bit of research indicates that the answer is NO. At least 2 species of Dioscorea are found in eastern North America even as far north as New York along the coast. To confuse name matters further a species of yam native to China is D. batatas.

Matt DiLeo said...

very nice