August 17, 2017

Potato or Bean?

Photograph of picture showing blossoms of Apios americana or the groundnut

Janine Pineo Photo | Photograph of picture showing blossoms of Apios americana or the groundnut

Description of groundnut at Fedco Tree Sale

Janine Pineo Photo | Description of groundnut at Fedco Tree Sale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There it was, hiding in a corner, tucked inside a brown paper bag. Groundnut, the sign said at the Fedco Tree Sale last weekend. A quick read of the sign and I had to have it, if only because Apios americana sounds totally cool. This member of the pea family is called the potato bean, hopniss and Indian potato, in addition to groundnut. The plant is a vine that produces edible underground tubers as well as edible beans above ground, hence the potato bean moniker being truer than true in description. Groundnut is a native perennial here in Maine, hardy to Zone 3. The tubers have a high starch content and three times the protein of a potato, and it was long a diet staple of native Americans. The best yield of the crop is in the second year after planting, keeping in mind that even the smallest tuber will produce a plant, making it potentially a nuisance plant but perpetuating the food source. Since it is a legume, it fixes nitrogen in the soil, too. And if all that wasn’t enough, the flowers that produce the seedpods are fragrant. Treasure in a paper bag, indeed.