The potato (Solanum tuberosum) is an herbaceous annual that grows up to 100 cm (40 inches) tall. As the potato plant grows, its compound leaves manufacture starch that is transferred to the ends of its underground stems (or stolons). The stems thicken to form a few or as many as 20 tubers close to the soil surface. The number of tubers that actually reach maturity depends on available moisture and soil nutrients. Tubers may vary in shape and size, and normally weigh up to 300 g (10.5 oz) each.
At the end of the growing season, the plant’s leaves and stems die down to the soil level and its new tubers detach from their stolons. The tubers then serve as a nutrient store that allows the plant to survive the cold and later regrow and reproduce. Each tuber has from two to as many as 10 buds (or “eyes”), arranged in a spiral pattern around its surface. The buds generate shoots that grow into new plants when conditions are again favorable.
SEED POTATOES: RENEWING THE CYCLE
Unlike other major field crops, potatoes are reproduced vegetatively, from other potatoes. Therefore, a part of each year’s crop – from 5 to 15 percent, depending on the quality of the harvested tubers – is set aside for re-use in the next planting season. Most farmers in developing countries select and store their own seed tubers. In developed countries, farmers are more likely to purchase disease-free “certified seed” from dedicated suppliers.