The Potato Family

by Panny Laing

Potatoes belong to a large genus of plants called Solanum, in turn part of the Solanaceae family of plants..  There are about 1,400 species of solanum annuals, biennials, herbaceous perennials, shrubs, trees, and twining climbers from a large range of habitats across the world but not many of them are hardy in the Uk - and certainly not in Scotland. 

The genus includes not only potatoes but also aubergines and tomatoes, all with the very distinctive solanum flower: star shaped with prominent yellow anthers. 

solanum flower

The majority of the Solanums are quite poisonous - indeed most Europeans believed that tomatoes were not edible until the 19th century since when it has become a staple food throughout the world.  During the Covid pandemic tinned tomatoes have been recognised as a 'must-have' kitchen ingredient.  

Potatoes were first domesticated around 8 thousand years ago in South America; seemingly, one of the most basic measurements of time for ancient civilisation of Incas was the time it took to cook a potato!  That is quite a thought.  The Spanish Conquistadors conquered Peru and introduced potatoes to Europe in the sixteenth century.  Sir Walter Raleigh introduced them to Ireland in 1589 from where there popularity eventually spread.  Wind the clocks forward to 1995 when NASA and the University of Wisconsin created the technology to enable potatoes to become the first vegetable to be grown in space.

We tend to take the humble tattie for granted but it is a great source of food: full of starchy carbohydrates potatoes are a great source of fibre, Vitamins B6 and C, Potassium, Sodium, Magnesium, Zinc, Iron and Phosphorous .... and they are delicious!

Panny Laing's Logie House Garden is open to the public daily, as is her Farm & Garden Shop (10am to 5pm - current October 2020) where many of the plants were propagated here in her garden.