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New Sweet Potatoes Add Ornamental Flavor

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'Sweet Caroline Bronze'

‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’

The sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, a tropical root and member of the morning glory family, has taken the landscape industry by storm. Adding another dimension to a plant traditionally associated with a food we welcome on North Carolina tables, the ornamental sweet potato is popular for its decorative foliage and vigorous growth habit which provide an appealing plant choice for mixed containers or as a groundcover.

Like so many plants from tropical regions, sweet potatoes like it hot. They need full sun and constant moisture. Plant after danger of frost has passed and watch them take off when the soil temperature begins to warm.

Look for three main cultivars: ‘Blackie’, with purple, almost black, foliage and deeply cut leaves; ‘Marguerite’ (‘Sulfur’) with its chartreuse lime-green foliage, and ‘Tricolor’ (‘Pink Frost’) with shades of pink, green and white marbled in the same leaf. While they do not flower often, them enhance mixed plantings with shrubs, herbaceous perennials and flowering annuals.

'Sweet Caroline Light Green'

‘Sweet Caroline Light Green’

Perhaps most exciting is the 2002 release of four new patented cultivars developed by NC State University researchers in cooperation with the JC Raulston Arboretum (JCRA). The “Sweet Caroline” series names each new cultivar by its color and is characterized by a compact growth habit and reduced root size, which makes them better suited than existing cultivars to containers and landscape gardens. They offer all the colors currently available plus the uniquely hued ‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’. The latter is coppery-bronze in appearance, especially as the leaves age, and has deeper-, contrasting-colored veins in its leaves.

Gardeners should contact their favorite garden center for availability, whereas retailers should contact Bodger Botanicals for stocking information. In this first-time partnership, a portion of the “Sweet Caroline” royalties will benefit the JCRA. Learn more at jcra.ncsu.edu.

Karen Neill