What Does it Mean When a Potato Plant Flowers?

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Potatoes are harvested in September, or right before the first frost.
Potatoes are harvested in September, or right before the first frost. (Image: Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

In Maine, the thousands of acres of potato blossoms in the summer are a beautiful sight. In shades of lavender and white, they can make an entire field look like a soft pastel blanket, and the potato farmers are delighted because they know that a potato plant that blossoms is on its way to producing potatoes.

Potato Blossoms

Potatoes are in the nightshade family, along with eggplant, tobacco, belladonna, tomatoes and petunias, and they all get blossoms. Bees come along, looking for some nectar to take back to the nest and as they get their nectar, they pollinate the plant. Watching the growth of a tomato plant is a perfect example; the plant flowers, a bee or two pollinate it, and the blossom falls away from where the tomato will grow. Potato blossoms also sometimes create a fruit where the blossom was, but it is filled with tiny seeds and is poisonous.

What Goes on Under the Ground

After the blossoms have been pollinated, the roots underground begin to grow tiny potatoes along the roots. These grow quickly, and grow even faster once the plant begins to die -- and potato farmers hasten this by spraying the tops of the plants to kill them. Once the tops are dead, the potatoes continue to develop until harvest.

What Can Go Wrong?

Potatoes have natural enemies that can wipe out an entire crop. Blight, beetles and the larvae of beetles can damage the potatoes or wipe them out.

Interesting Facts about Potatoes

During the gold rush in Alaska, miners traded potatoes for gold because of the vital vitamin C that potatoes contain. When potatoes were introduced in Europe, they thought they were poisonous, then an aphrodesiac. History places the discovery of the potato with the Peru Inca Indians in 200 BC.

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