When you see the word “root,” what do you think of in your head? Is it an underground plant that grows out of dirt and sends its leaves down to absorb water from the soil? Or does it conjure up images like a large tree with thick branches sprouting all over the place?
Whatever image you have for roots probably isn’t exactly right. While the above examples are both types of plants (and actually quite similar), they aren’t potatoes. Potatoes don’t grow out of the ground like we typically imagine when thinking about roots.
So why would we call them by this name? The answer lies within their function. Roots serve as anchors for the plant’s base so that it can survive without sunlight and nutrients. The part of the plant which connects the roots to the rest of the plant is called the stem.
It also works as a supporting structure for growth, allowing new shoots to emerge, and protects the entire organism. In other words, the term root simply refers to the part of the plant which allows it to anchor itself into the earth and get enough nutrition to thrive. This doesn’t mean that all plants use this same method though. Some plants live on floating mats or even attach themselves to surfaces using tiny hooks called haustoria. Others utilize twining tendrils instead of stems.
Still others employ modified leaves or specialized structures known as leaf stipules to achieve these ends. But no matter how they accomplish this task, when it comes to potatoes, our definition still applies.
So what makes potatoes different than other plants rooted into the earth?
First off, they’re tubers, meaning they store food inside tuberous sections at the end of each shoot. These storage organs allow potatoes to be grown under very difficult conditions where there might not otherwise be any vegetation available for photosynthesis.
Also, unlike most plants, potatoes produce flowers only after several years. Finally, just because a plant has been around long enough to grow a huge trunk, doesn’t necessarily make it a “tree.” Trees are defined based upon characteristics such as height, bark, fruit production, etc., whereas plants are classified according to more subjective factors.
For example, some trees will drop their leaves during the winter while flowering shrubs may never lose theirs. And again, although many people refer to certain plants as “trees” regardless of whether they meet criteria for classification, this article deals specifically with potatoes’ relationship to the category of “roots.”
Now that we’ve established what distinguishes potatoes from other plants, let’s talk about why they’re actually referred to as “stems” rather than “rooting systems.” When plants first emerged onto Earth, it was hard for them to move freely across the land due to lack of mobility equipment. Since they were stuck moving slowly through mud, they had to develop ways to propel themselves forward.
One way of doing this was to create small spikes along one side of their bodies called cilia. As the plants moved forward, these cilia pushed against the surrounding fluid until they created currents behind them. By pushing against liquid, they could generate energy to power movement and push aside obstacles in front of them. Other organisms developed various methods of locomotion including swimming fish, walking animals, flying insects, and creeping fungi. Even today, scientists continue to explore how living things manage propulsion and locomotion across diverse environments.
Plants eventually learned to harness this ability to help them travel across land. They did this by creating thin walls between cells called cell membranes. Through constant turgor pressure generated by water molecules within the cells, they managed to keep the membrane firm yet flexible enough to bend and form channels through it.
If they wanted to transport something quickly from one area to another, they used pores to punch holes through the membranes. Instead of relying solely on surface tension for propulsion, they could now take advantage of chemical potential energy stored in water to create currents. Once they figured out how to move fluidly through narrow tubes made of cellulose, they began growing upwards towards light sources.
Eventually, they discovered that by breaking apart those tubes and letting the individual strands float free, they formed networks that connected multiple areas together. Now that they had access to fresh air and sunshine, they were able to spread throughout the world.
Although the description provided here describes specific functions of plant cellular biology, it illustrates the point being discussed much better than any scientific explanation ever could. Plants are capable of generating electricity via proton pumps in chloroplasts. Although not fully understood, researchers believe that this process generates negative charges in stroma and positive ones in lumen, causing protons to flow back and forth. With this information in mind, consider the following analogy: Imagine the plant body as a series of pipes laid parallel to one another.
Each pipe represents a cell wall. If the cells were full of electrons, then the fluids flowing through them would carry positively charged particles. On the other hand, if the cells contained lots of protons, negative ions would circulate through the system. The question becomes, what happens if every single pipe shared a common path instead of separate branching pathways? Would the flow of electrical charge change? Without going too far into science jargon, think about how a current flows through wires carrying electrons versus how it travels through circuit boards carrying protons. What occurs determines whether the system operates efficiently or not.
This means that if a plant possesses the capability of generating electric fields, it must be considered as having a true electrostatic capacity. However, since plants cannot complete the final step of converting voltage to usable energy, they are unable to fulfill this requirement for consideration as electricity producers. Therefore, if we want to classify potatoes as electricity generators, it would fall under the heading of electricity transducers. That said, given the fact that potatoes are commonly eaten raw, it seems unlikely that they would pose any health risks associated with consumption.
Is a Potatoe a Root or Stem?
so returning to our main question is a Potatoe is a tuberous stem it is a part of the stem that is swollen and grown underground.
Is a Potatoe a vegetable
“Vegetable,” according to Merriam-Webster (which has been around since 1828) is defined as “a plant of the class that grows underground and sends its roots out above ground for food.” So far so good, right? But if we look at other dictionaries like the Oxford dictionary includes potatoes in their definition of vegetables.
In 1769, John Ray included the tubers of both plants under his broad umbrella term for all things edible; he called them Indian Cresses because it was believed they grew naturally on the East Indies islands. By 1800, botanists were listing potatoes among garden flowers, trees, herbs, shrubs and even vines by name.
The problem with this approach was that people commonly used the word “vegetables” to describe any green leafy thing growing in the soil—even though many weren’t actually part of the flowering plant family.
It wasn’t until the 19th century in England when someone decided to formally distinguish between what should be considered “plant parts,” such as stems, leaves, blossoms and fruits versus “plants themselves” which are flowers plus seeds, roots, bark and everything else. This led to what you might call today’s modern understanding of what constitutes a vegetable.
Today, we still think about whether something can technically be classified as a vegetable-based on how it looks: Is it green, fuzzy, or sprouting from a tiny little root system? Does it have a stem? Are there leaves? If not, then whatever it may grow into, it isn’t really a vegetable. And yet, some varieties of potatoes do fit perfectly within our current parameters, while others don’t quite make the cut. With these questions burning in your mind, read on to learn more…
The case against: A potato doesn’t require a flower to become a vegetable
Most contemporary definitions of “vegetable” say that a plant needs an actual flower — either one produced on its own or one planted by humans specifically for aesthetic purposes — to qualify. That means if you’re eating a tomato off a vine, it’s not a vegetable, but if you take a bite out of a cherry tomato picked straight off the plant itself, it most certainly is.
However, the same logic does not apply to potatoes. Yes, we know, I’m sorry…but hear me out!
Potatoes aren’t exactly rare. They occur across hundreds of different species, and unlike tomatoes, each variety comes bearing its very distinct appearance and flavor, often depending entirely upon where it’s grown. Some types are small and round, others long and thin, some taste spicy, some sweet, etc., etc. All of these factors contribute to why no two potatoes look alike, let alone taste similar. Even if you went back several generations in time, you’d likely find yourself confused over which type of potato belongs in your grandmother’s recipe collection compared to your mom’s favorite brand today. Or maybe you’ve never seen a red new potato before, much less eaten one, but now see one every day during grocery shopping.
Potato salad is a classic example of how confusing this issue can get. My mother makes her version using russet potatoes, but my wife insists hers tastes best with Yukon golds. We love the texture and creaminess of those yummy yellow spuds, but personally, I just cannot bring myself to eat plain old boiled potatoes without seasoning first. You could argue that boiling potatoes removes their skin, making them too bland to truly consider a true “raw” vegetable. Similarly, you could point out that the skins of some purple potatoes contain enough vitamin B6 to provide half your daily recommended intake.
Others would counter that cooking destroys vitamins and minerals altogether, leaving nothing nutritious behind. Then again, there are plenty of folks who insist raw potatoes are better than cooked ones simply because they prefer the way their flesh feels in their mouth. There are literally dozens of opinions floating around, and none of them are wrong per se. What matters here is knowing what kind of potatoes you’re going to buy ahead of time, instead of having to guess after digging up a mystery tuber.
A potato is a member of the nightshade family, but only sometimes
Potatoes belong to the Nightshade family of plants, along with tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, tobacco and cherries. These plants share certain characteristics, including a tendency to produce toxins called alkaloids. Alkaloid production varies greatly between members of the group, however, and potatoes’ concentrations tend to fall somewhere below the average. Still, experts recommend avoiding potatoes with high levels of toxin buildup due to possible health risks.
While potatoes are toxic, they are generally safe to consume provided the concentration level is low enough. For instance, potatoes exposed to light will turn brown faster than normal, indicating higher alkaline content. Eating one piece of a potato left sitting out overnight won’t kill you, but doing so repeatedly will eventually cause problems. Luckily, potatoes store well indoors in dark locations away from sunlight, heat and oxygen.
As long as you stick to baking them rather than frying them (potatoes fry easily), preparing mashed potatoes shouldn’t present a problem. Just remember to avoid anything processed, i.e., canned, instant, etc. Also, try to keep them away from children. Kids especially seem to enjoy tearing apart potatoes at playtime, thus exposing them to alkaline compounds.
Once broken down, those molecules quickly move through the digestive process. On top of that, kids are notorious for consuming large quantities of foods with lots of starch and sugar, further speeding up the breakdown process.
An argument can be made that potatoes are vegetables but it doesn’t fit firmly into the category. To classify potatoes as vegetables, you need to decide whether you want to define them based on form, function or taste. If form, function or taste, pick whichever criteria suits you best. Otherwise, treat potatoes as veggies and carrots as snacks. After all, nobody ever said life had to be easy.