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potato or white potato, common name for a perennial plant (Solanum tuberosum) of the family Solanaceae (nightshade family) and for its swollen underground stem, a tuber, which is one of the most widely used vegetables in Western temperate climates. Evidence of the domesticated potato, which is native to South America, has been found at a 12,500 year-old archaeological site in Chile. The potato was cultivated by the Incas in the Andes, and in pre-Columbian times its culture spread widely among Native Americans, for whom it was a staple food.
Its history is difficult to trace, partly because the name potato was also used by early writers for the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) and for other unrelated plants. Spanish explorers are believed to have brought it in the 16th cent. from Peru to Spain, whence it spread N and W throughout Europe. It was brought to North America by European settlers probably c.1600; thus, like the closely related tomato, it is a reintroduced food plant in the New World. The potato was first accepted as a large-scale crop in the British Isles. It became the major food in Ireland during the 18th cent. and is hence often called Irish potato to distinguish it from the sweet potato. Ireland was so dependent on the potato that the failure (resulting from blight) of the 1845–46 crop caused a famine resulting in widespread disease, death, and emigration. The potato was also important to the course of history in the 20th cent. in Europe, especially in Germany, where it kept the country alive during two world wars.
The potato is today a primary food of Western peoples, as well as a source of starch, flour, alcohol, dextrin, and fodder (chiefly in Europe, where more is used for this purpose than for human consumption). Nutritionally, the potato is high in carbohydrates and a good source of protein, vitamin C, the B vitamins, potassium, phosphorus, and iron. Most of the minerals and protein are concentrated in a thin layer beneath the skin, and the skin itself is a source of food fiber; health authorities therefore recommend cooking and eating potatoes unpeeled.
The potato grows best in a cool, moist climate; in the United States mostly in Maine and Idaho. Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, and Belarus are the greatest potato-producing countries of Europe, and China and India are now (with Russia) among the top three potato growers. Potatoes are usually propagated by planting pieces of the tubers that bear two or three “eyes,” the buds of the underground stems. The plant is sensitive to frost, is subject to certain fungus and virus diseases (e.g., mosaic, wilt, and blight), and is attacked by several insect pests, especially the potato beetle. Potatoes are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Solanales, family Solanaceae.
See studies by L. Zuckerman (1998) and J. Reader (2009).
several species of tuberous perennials of the genus Solarium, section Tuberarium, family Solanaceae.
There are about 200 wild and cultivated species of potato, growing primarily in South and Central America. Two closely related species are usually cultivated: the Andean potato (S. andigenum), which has long been grown in the territory of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina, and the Chilean potato (S. tuberosum), whose original range included central Chile and the neighboring islands. This species has spread widely (as an annual crop) to countries with temperate climates. The local populace of the mountainous regions of South America also cultivate S. rybinii, S. goniocalyx, S. ajanhuiri, and certain other species.
The plant of the Chilean potato, which grows from a tuber, forms a bush 50–80 cm in height, usually with between three and six green or anthocyanin-containing stalks. Underground shoots, called stolons or runners, grow from the axils of embryonic leaves in the underground part of the stem. They grow to 15–20 cm (in some varieties, to 40–50 cm). As the apexes grow thicker, they give rise to new tubers (modified shoots). The eyes, each with three or four buds, are located on the surface of the tubers in pits bordered by leaf scars. The central bud usually sprouts; only when it is damaged do the other buds begin to develop. The eyes are arranged spirally and are particularly numerous near the apex of the tuber. The tuber may be round, elongated, or oval. The surface color and the pulp may be white, yellow, pinkish, red, or blue. The root system is fibrous and relatively poorly developed. The leaves are odd-pinnate dissected, with lobes of various sizes. They are downy and range in color from yellowish green to dark green. An inflorescence develops of two or three (sometimes four) furcate bostryces. The blossoms are pentamerous, with gamosepalous calyces and incompletely joined white, red-violet, or blue-violet petals. The fruit is a spherical, oval, or napiform berry with small seeds, 1,000 of which weigh 0.5–0.6 g.
Potatoes reproduce vegetatively by the tubers (for breeding purposes by the seeds). The tuber buds in the soil begin to sprout at temperatures of 5°–8° C; the optimal sprouting temperature is 15°–20° C. The optimal temperature for photosynthesis, and for stalk, leaf, and blossom development is 16°–22°C. The tubers develop most intensively at nighttime air temperatures of 10°–13°C. High temperatures (nighttime readings of about 20°C and higher) lead to the thermal degeneration of the potatoes, and the seed tubers produce plants with sharply diminished productivity. The sprouts and young plants are damaged at — 2°C. The coefficient of transpiration averages 400–500. The greatest amount of water is needed by the plant during blossoming and tuber formation. Excess moisture is harmful to the potato. A great deal of nutritive substance is used in developing the foliage and tubers of the potato, especially during the period of maximum growth of the above-ground parts of the plant and at the beginning of tuber formation. A harvest of 200–250 centners per hectare removes from the soil 100–175 kg of nitrogen, 40–50 kg of phosphorus, and 140–230 kg of potassium (statistics of D. N. Prianishnikov). The best soils for potatoes are chernozems, turfy podzols, gray forest soils, and dried peats. The mechanical composition should be sandy loam or light to moderate loams.
The potato is a highly important crop with a variety of uses. On the average, its tubers contain 76.3 percent water and 23.7 percent dry matter, including 17.5 percent starch, 0.5 percent sugars, 1–2 percent proteins, and about 1 percent mineral salts. The maximum content of dry matter is 36.8 percent; the maximum starch, 29.4 percent; and the maximum protein, 4.6 percent. The potato is also a source of vitamins C, Bi, B2, B6, PP, and K and a source of carotenoids. More than 100 dishes can be prepared from potatoes. The food industry produces potatoes that are dried, fried (as chips), quick-frozen, flaked, and powdered. Potatoes are of great importance as a raw material for starches, syrups, and spirits. Agricultural livestock are fed the tubers, tops, processing residues, and pulp. In daylight, glycoal-kaloids (for example, solanin and chaconine) form under the skin of the tubers; these substances can cause poisoning if their content surpasses 20–50 mg percent, but they partially dissolve upon boiling in water.
The potato was first cultivated (at first by using wild varieties) about 14, 000 years ago by the Indians of South America. They were first introduced to Europe (Spain) in about 1565. Thereafter, the crop spread to Italy, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain. The Free Economic Society attributed the appearance of the potato in Russia to Peter the Great, who, at the end of the 17th century, had a sack of the tubers sent from Holland. Extensive cultivation began after the Senate issued a decree in 1765 and imported from abroad a quantity of seed potatoes for distribution about the country. The area planted to potatoes began to expand with particular speed in the 1840’s. By the end of the 19th century more than 1.5 million hectares were being planted to potatoes in Russia.
Worldwide in 1970, the area planted to potatoes amounted to about 22.3 million hectares (ha): 2.7 million in Poland, 0.66 in the Federal Republic of Germany, 0.67 in the German Democratic Republic, and 0.54 million in the United States. The total tuber harvest comes to around 298 million tons, an average of 133 centners per ha: 361 centners per ha in the Netherlands, 233 in the United States, 293 in the FRG, 192 in the GDR, and 185 in Poland. In 1971 the USSR planted 7.89 million ha of potatoes; the total harvest came to 92.6 million tons, an average of 117 centners per ha (in Estonia, 178 centners per ha; in Latvia, 160; and in Byelorussia, 130). In comparison with 1913 (4.2 million ha), the area planted in potatoes has nearly doubled. The most important potato regions are in Byelorussia, the western and northern parts of the Ukraine, and the central chernozem areas of the RSFSR. Potato cultivation has been carried beyond the Arctic Circle (on the Kola Peninsula and in the valleys of the Pechora, Ob’, and Kolyma rivers).
Through years of cultivation, hundreds of varieties of potatoes have developed. Most contemporary varieties have been acquired by hybridization. Selective breeding began in the USSR in 1920 at the Korenevo Potato Breeding Station, where the first Soviet varieties were developed in 1925 (the Lorkh and the Korenevskii). According to the date of maturation, potatoes are divided into early, mid-early, mid-season ripening, mid-late, and late varieties. By usage, they are classed as table, fodder, industrial, or universal. By 1972, 105 varieties had been regionalized. The most common varieties are the Priekul’skiy Early, the Lorkh, and the Berlichingen, which are grown nearly everywhere. Other important varieties are the Petrovskii, the Stolovyi 19, the Olev, the Detskosel’skii, the Kameraz, the Vol’tman, the IubeP, the Polesskii, the Parnassiia, the Loshitskii, the Sedov, and the Borodianskii.
With good soil care and proper application of fertilizer, potatoes give high yields even when grown for long periods on the same plots. In field and fodder crop rotation in nonchernozem zones, potatoes are planted on turned sod after winter crops and flax. On sandy soils, the potatoes best follow lupine. In the central chernozem districts, the Ukraine, the northern Caucasus, the Volga region, and Middle Asia, potatoes are planted after winter crops, annual grasses, and corn. In Kazakhstan and eastern Siberia, they follow grain and legume-grass mixtures. In the Urals and Far East, they are planted after grain and grain-legume mixtures. In suburban areas, potatoes are usually cultivated in vegetable rotations. The early potato is a fallow crop; it grows well on loose, weedless, deeply tilled soils. In the fall, soils planted in potatoes are plowed to a depth of 27–30 cm. Thinner soils are plowed to the bottom of the arable layer and the undersoils are loosened. Nonchernozem fields are harrowed and replowed in the spring. On flooded soils this is combined with the application of organic fertilizers. The soils are harrowed to a depth of 17–20 cm or deeply cultivated to 12–15 cm. In the forest-steppe and steppe zones the soil is loosened by cultivating twice. Organic fertilizers (manure and compost) are applied at 20–40 tons per ha in both fall and spring. Green manure is applied to sandy soils. Mineral fertilizers calculated to produce 150–200 centners of tubers per ha provide 20–60 kg per ha of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium if applied in combination with manure and 20–90 kg per ha if without manure. For application during sowing (in the furrows), they should provide 10–20 kg per ha of phosphorus and 15–20 kg per ha of nitrogen. Top dressings should provide 20–30 kg per ha of nitrogen and potassium.
In planting potatoes, tubers of average size are selected (50–80g). The seed potatoes are first allowed to sprout; this speeds the appearance of the shoots by seven to ten days. They are planted when the soil at 8–10 cm reaches 6°–8°C. The early varieties are planted first on fallow fields. In Middle Asia early varieties are given winter plantings (in January and February). Potatoes are planted by potato planters. The distance between the rows may be 60, 70, or 90 cm; the distance between plants in a row may be 23, 25, 30, or 35 cm. The planting standard for seed tubers is 2.5–3.5 tons per ha, planted to a depth of 6–12 cm. The fields are harrowed twice before the shoots appear and loosened several times after they appear. In the nonchernozem zone and the northern regions of the chernozem zone, potatoes are hilled (with moist soil). Herbicides are used against weeds; 2, 4-D (sodium and amino salts and ethers) and nitrophen are most common. A potato combine or potato digger is used for harvesting. To keep a long time, the potatoes are dug after the skin has become rough. In the south they are harvested when the tops die. Early potatoes are harvested when it is most suitable for market. Between two and six days before harvesting, the tops are mowed by a special machine. After drying and sorting, the tubers are placed in storage in special warehouses.
Potatoes are attacked by various diseases. The fungal diseases include phytophthorosis, potato canker, macrosporiosis, and potato scab. The bacterial diseases include stem wilt and ring rot. The viral diseases include mosaic diseases and leaf curl. The potato and stem nematodes also cause damage. Pests include the mole cricket, the wireworm and false wireworm, the beet web-worm, the cutworm, and slugs. Further damage may be caused by the Colorado beetle and, in the Far East, the 28-spotted ladybird.
REFERENCESLekhnovich, V. S. “K istorii kul’tury kartofelia v Rossii.” In Materialy po istorii zemledeliia v SSSR, collection 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1956.
Bukasov, S. M., and A. Ia. Kameraz. Osnovy selektsii kartofelia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1959.
Zhukova, G. S., B. A. Pisarev, and A. I. Kuznetsov. Agrotekhnika kartofelia v osnovnykh zonakh RSFSR. Moscow, 1964.
Kameraz, A. Ia. Rannii kartofel’. Leningrad, 1967.
Novoe v kartofelevodstve. Edited by N. A. Dorozhkin. Minsk, 1967.
Vereshchagin, N. I., A. I. Mal’ko, and K. A. Pshechenkov. Kratkii spravochnik mekhanizatora-kartofelevoda. Moscow, 1968.
Kartofel’. Edited by N. S. Batsanov. Moscow, 1970.
V. S. LEKHNOVICH, K. Z. BUDIN, and A. IA. KAMERAZ
What does it mean when you dream about a potato?
As a subterranean vegetable, the potato represents a symbol of the unconscious. Socially, it is a symbol of laziness (“the couch potato”) or of a person considered to be a “lump” (“potato head”).