Plant of the month: Uala sweet potato perfect for growing in Hawaii

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Plant of the month: Uala sweet potato perfect for growing in Hawaii

The ‘Margarita’ variety of ‘uala has light green heart shaped leaves. (epicgardening.com/Courtesy Photo) The ‘uala has attractive palmate leaves and a lovely white and purple flower. (cookislands.bishopmuseum.org/Courtesy Photo) The plant known as the Hawaiian sweet potato is not native to Hawaii. Although the plant has the Hawaiian name uala and its tuber has been a staple in the Hawaiian diet for centuries, it is actually native to parts of South America. Though it is not known how or when it arrived in Polynesia and Hawaii, the Hawaiians were cultivating it here when Captain Cook arrived in 1778. The plant is perfectly suited to our Kona climate and can be an attractive as well as a tasty addition to local gardens. It can tolerate full hot sun as well as partial shade and can go a while with limited water, fertilizer or maintenance. And, it produces delicious tubers as well as tasty shoots that can be harvested and eaten. Uala has it all! ADVERTISING Known botanically as Ipomea batatas, uala is a member of the Convolvulaceae or morning glory family. Its growth habit and flowers are somewhat similar to morning glories, although it is not nearly as invasive. Like its cousin, uala has a viney growth habit. It usually stays close to the ground, however, and rarely climbs. Several different varieties of the sweet potato plant are grown here. They are distinguished by the color and shape of their leaves and their tubers. The “blackie” cultivar has leaves that are very dark green, almost black. The leaves are palmate in shape with deep lobes. Another common cultivar is “margarita.” Her leaves are usually a light green and more heart shaped. Interplanting the two contrasting cultivars can add a dramatic touch to your garden. Both put out shoots that can grow long fairly quickly. In a short time the plants will grow to 4 to 6 inches tall and can cover a lot of ground. The flowers of the uala plants are lovely, though they appear infrequently. Usually they are white or light lavender funnel-shaped blossoms with deep purple centers. When the flower is fully open a five pointed star is visible in the folds of its surface adding to its charm. The flowers do produce seeds but the best propagation technique is by shoot cuttings. The uala plant that commonly grows here produces tubers that are often light brown with purple meat. Some cultivars produce tubers with white or yellow meat that is equally tasty. Four to six months after planting, you should be able to harvest some tubers. In ideal growing conditions, you can leave them in the ground for a while allowing the tubers to get larger. In the right conditions of temperature and humidity, uala plants will grow quickly producing long shoots with lots of leaves and roots at many of the nodes. You can cut any of these shoots at four to six inches long and they will grow into a new plant. Though you can […]