Wondernose: What plant has poisonous leaves, yet we eat some parts of it practically every day?

by Rebecca Martin | Jul 1, 2024 | 0 comments

That’s right, Wondernose. For lunch today you ate something that has poisonous leaves. When you think about it, you realize God created this plant with an amazing faculty. Though the leaves are poisonous, the poison stays there. It does not migrate to the rest of the plant.

Our mystery plant is part of a group of plants called nightshades. Included in this group are plants like the tomato and the petunia. But you say you did not have tomatoes for lunch, and definitely not petunias.

What about potatoes? Did you have potatoes for lunch? Well, I’m pretty sure you didn’t eat the leaves. The potato is the answer to today’s riddle.

Right away you thought of the Colorado potato beetle. Those pesky bugs must not mind the poison in potato leaves! You only wish they would. One of the biggest problems in growing potatoes is keeping those Colorado potato beetles under control.

The fact remains that even if beetles can stomach potato leaves, they’re poisonous to people. We have no desire to eat the leaves. We eat the roots, you say?

Wait a minute, Wondernose. You need to straighten out your information. We do not eat potato roots. But we do eat their stems! A potato, called a tuber, is simply the thickened end of an underground stem, or rhizome.

It’s amazing how many tubers can grow on one plant. What’s the greatest number of potatoes you’ve counted from one plant when you were digging some for supper? Maybe you should keep track next time you’re harvesting potatoes. One plant may produce up to twenty tubers, if conditions are ideal.

Did you know that potatoes aren’t even native to North America? It’s hard to believe, considering how many potatoes are grown here now. Literally millions of bags of potatoes are produced in states like Idaho and Washington. In Canada, tiny Prince Edward Island is the major potato producer among the provinces.

As far as historians can tell, potatoes were first grown in South America. Spanish explorers then learned to enjoy potatoes, and they took some back to Europe with them in the 1500s. Interestingly, at that time many people refused to eat potatoes because they thought they were poisonous. And they were partly right! They just didn’t realize that the tubers were perfectly okay for eating.

In time, of course, people overcame their fear of potatoes, and they became a common crop in Europe. Ireland seemed to be an especially good country for potato growing. The Irish grew so many potatoes that, when the crop failed for several successive years due to blight, Ireland’s entire economy collapsed!

That’s right, Wondernose; thousands of people died because they had no food and had lost their means of making a living. That happened around the middle of the 1800s. During those years, quite a few Irish people travelled across the ocean to start over in America.

In 1719 the first permanent crop of potatoes was planted in New Hampshire. The Irish brought them over from Europe.

Despite their poisonous foliage, potatoes pack a lot of nutrition into those tubers. Does it sound contradictory, then, to say that a potato is about 80% water? But the remaining 20% contains many vitamins, minerals, and proteins. God created potatoes with the means to absorb good food from the soil, then turn it into good food for us!

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