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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Ipomoea batatas (Sweet Potato)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Core Eudicots > Asterids > Euasterid I > Order: Solanales > Family: Convolvulaceae > Genus: Ipomoea

Sweet potatoes fall within the same genus as Morning Glory and originate from Central and South America where they were already being cultivated by 2500 BC. 

Sweet Potato originates from Central and South America but the wild species it originates from has not been fully resolved. Its cultivation as a vegetable in South and Central America goes back to about 2500 BC. It was brought back to Europe by Columbus on his first voyage to the New World and entered cultivation in Spain soon afterwards. By 1600 Sweet Potatoes were being grown in England. There is great confusion about how and when Sweet Potatoes came to be cultivated on the Pacific Islands in Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia. Their use on these islands seems to pre-date their possible introduction by European explorers but how this came about has not been fully resolved.

The tubers of Sweet Potato are eaten cooked as a vegetable. They contain 3-6% sugar which is increased at warm temperatures and through the early stages of the cooking process through the enzymatic breakdown of starch to glucose. There are more calories, minerals and vitamin A in sweet potato than ordinary potatoes but the latter have more protein.

Sweet Potatoes are often confused with Yams the latter of which fall in the genus Dioscorea.

Ecological relationships

Acetobacter diazotrophicus


Acid-producing, nitrogen-fixing bacteria that are found in roots, stems and tubers of Sweet potato plants.




  • Sauer, J.D. 1993. Historical geography of crop plants - a select roster. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

Text by Hamish Robertson