What are you, little green thing?
March 3, 2012 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Plant identification filter! What is this plant that's growing in my garden? Do I want it?

I found this guy growing in my community garden plot. Anybody know what it is and if it's something I should keep? It's about five inches tall, seven wide, and is growing near the base of the papaya tree that we inherited from the plot's previous gardener. It's been here for a few weeks now. Hope someone can tell me what it is!
posted by Scientist to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it's a potato.
posted by Solomon at 12:10 PM on March 3, 2012

It looks a lot like a potato (or so says my wife who knows this stuff). While we're using the same water as you (no, really) we're not in the same growth zone as you, so YMMV.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:10 PM on March 3, 2012

Seconding potato. Sometimes volunteer pecans (when those squirrels bury their winter stash) look a little like that when they're babies, but that's way more potato-ish to me. Those pop up a lot if you've worked compost (possibly containing potato bits) into the soil.
posted by pantarei70 at 12:12 PM on March 3, 2012

Response by poster: A potato? That's great! I was sure it would just be a boring old weed! A potato is awesome! Thanks so much everyone! What should I do for it? How do I know when it's ready to harvest?
posted by Scientist at 12:44 PM on March 3, 2012

Looks like a potato to me. It doesn't really look like a Juglandaceae to me; I've seen black walnut seedlings/saplings about that size, and they generally have a mini trunk. Adding another vote for its being a potato.

Normally, I just stick my fingers into the ground near the base of the plant and feel around to see if there's potatoes. At the farm I work at, we generally cut off the tops of the plants before harvesting to let their skins harden up so they don't scuff as easily. I've also heard that you can tell that potatoes are ready when they start flowering.
posted by retypepassword at 12:46 PM on March 3, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for the advice! I had a little poke around and didn't feel much of anything so I suppose it's just a baby still. Its root goes a fair way (longer than I could reach without conducting a major excavation) but seems to be about the same diameter as the stem. How big is the green part likely to get? Is there a season for harvesting potatoes?
posted by Scientist at 1:16 PM on March 3, 2012

If I remember correctly, they don't get much more than a foot tall. Something in that range, give or take a few inches. As for a harvest season, I think it really just depends on when they're planted. We just planted seed potatoes recently, and they'll probably be ready for harvest sometime mid-summer. There's probably other variables, such as your local climate.
posted by retypepassword at 1:49 PM on March 3, 2012

Just wanted to make sure you know that you can't use the leaves in a salad or to make tea. Potatoes are part of the Nightshade family, and the leaves and stems contain glycoalkaloids which are poisonous. If you let them go long enough to create fruit, the fruits are also poisonous (to us).
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:42 PM on March 3, 2012

Yup. Potato. You may see more shoots. It kind of depends on the variety, but I typically harvest after the flowers die back. You can always harvest early for "new" potatoes, but probably not before Julyish in your area.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:55 PM on March 3, 2012

Potatoes can get a couple feet tall. You'll get the most potatoes (and I believe they'll store better) if you wait for it to fruit and then die back. They have attractive flowers and fruits, I think. Don't let anyone mistake the fruits for tomatoes, though.

If you like 'em, now is a fine time to plant more and have a potato bed!
posted by momus_window at 9:41 AM on March 4, 2012

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