FREAK: Chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine

Chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine The world loves a freak. I mean how else could you explain the popularity of Paris Hilton a Britney Spears, beside mass planetary alien abduction. Okay, I will give you that the sex tape went a long way to help push Paris to stardom, but when it is all said and done, she is a freak. And boy do we love a freak.

Nobody loves freaks more than a gardener.

Every year the horticultural industry throws literally millions of dollars are trying to find the next vegetative freak. Call it what you will… cross-breeding, controlled propagation, genetic manipulation, dumb sport luck. It all boils down to freak finding.

The goal of all this hustle and bustle is to create the latest and greatest and freakiest plant so that we gardeners can swoon over it and, of course, pay ungodly amounts of money so that we can own it and watch it die in our own gardens.

One of my favorite freak plant stories is that of the Chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine. This is one that falls under dumb sport luck.

Chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine is a sport. That means that through some genetic mishap, be it sci-fi radio active or just Mother Nature asleep at the wheel, part of the plant’s genetic code is mis-written and odd things happen. In the case of the Chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine, it went from a nice deep green to smack you in the face chartreuse.

Now, what makes this so amazing is that this particular genetic hiccup did not happen in a lab, a nursery or even in a knowledgeable gardener’s flower bed. As a matter of fact, at this time, sweet potato were only foodstuffs. Tasty at Thanksgiving but certainly not meant for the floral arrangement.

This sport happened in a farmer’s field. One lowly little sweet potato that stood out like a sore thumb among all that dark green. And this rather observant farmer noticed it. By sheer luck, he happened to be friends with a garden designer (whose name escapes me at the moment and apparently Yahoo and Google as well).

This garden designer was just like the rest of us. He liked a freak and was not too proud to admit it. So he took this sport home and started to propagate it.

In a short time he had a tidy little supply and he thought, “Well, won’t this just be the talk of the town when I introduce it to the other garden designers.”

He was right, kind of. They laughed at him when he introduced it. Sweet Potatoes! Oh come on? You are joking right? Sweet potatoes?!? I believe one of the designer’s there even said it was as silly as someone starting a TV show about a spoiled rotten heiress and her equally spoiled friend. But I might be wrong about that.

He went home from that conference feeling just a little silly. But he didn’t stop propagating them. He knew as well as anybody (besides the other garden designers) that we gardeners like a freak.

Long and short of it, ornamental sweet potato vines are now a hanging basket staple. A garden nursery just can’t be considered a real garden nursery unless they carry some form of these vines. And each and every one of those chartreuse vines came from that one little farmer found sport.

Moral of the story, be friends with farmers. No wait, sweet potatoes are your friends. No, no… Oh screw it.

It’s a freak, okay. You like freaks. Don’t deny it. Yeah, I bet you even have the Simple Life programmed on your TiVo.

Added 4/29/07
Here we are nearly a year later and I managed to find the name of the gentleman I mention who indroduced the Chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine. His name was Hunter Stubbs. According to Dr. Allen Armitage on Smart Gardening, Hunter Stubbs found this sport in Raleigh, NC.

5 thoughts on “FREAK: Chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine
  1. cheryl on

    Can ornamental Sweet Potato vines be used in cut flower arrangements?

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  2. Linda Frolund on

    Can I buy ornamental potato tubers to start myself indoors?If so, can you recommend a supplier?

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  3. Just one warning: Be careful about planting sweet potato vines in open flowerbeds because they are actually alien beings that want to TAKE OVER THE PLANET!! AIIIEEEEEE! :)

    Seriously, at a friend’s suggestion, I planted some of these in an open bed, to drape over the side of a stone wall, alongside a wide selection of other annuals, and within a month, you couldn’t even SEE the other plants I’d put in there, as they were getting smothered by the sweet potato vines. I had to cut them back *severely* three or four times over the course of the summer, which in Massachusetts is really just June through the first week in September, i.e. not that long a stretch of time, for a plant to cycle so many times through such out-of-control growth.

    In the fall, when I was cleaning out my flowerbeds, and had to cart away several wheelbarrowfuls of sweet potato vines, I found actual potatoes buried in my flowerbed. And I’m not talking about little things, I’m talking about massive ones, potatoes as big as three fists together! I asked my friend whose bright idea it was to plant them, if they were edible, but she wasn’t sure, so I didn’t take the chance. (Turns out they are, but they still scare me…)

    It was at that point that I vowed never to put these plants in an open bed ever again, because they get too unmanageable with all that space and soil available to them. If I use them at all, it’s just in container gardening for a contrast color. But even there, they start creeping down and crawling across my patio… heyyyy, what’s that I feel climbing up my ankle? … wait… wait… no, it can’t be… nooooooOOOOOOOOO AHHHHGGGHHHHhh!!!

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  4. This plant works really good. I have an all container garden and needed something to cover the ground and hide the containers. Bingo! This wild,speedy, and colorful vine did the trick. Once in a while I walk the borders and clip back the vine to keep it under control. I am excited to see what it does in the winter.

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