Fact sheet: Sweet Potato Vine
Bonatios are also commonly called Cuban sweet potatoes. While the generic name is the same as for the ordinary sweet potato widely grown in gardens and farms around the state, boniatos differ primarily by having a distinctive white interior rather than the characteristic yellow or orange flesh of other varieties. Boniatos have been grown throughout the subtropical world for centuries, but became an important commercial crop in Florida in recent years. Popularity rose with the increasing population of Cubans in the Dade County area. Since there was always a small Cuban-Latin sector in South Florida, boniatos were grown for home use and limited sales for many years before that
Boniatos resemble ordinary sweet potatoes, having roundish, oblong roots with fleshy taproots. They are not always smooth and uniform in shape and size. Underneath the reddish brown skin is a bright white, very dry interior. Two varieties in commercial production in South Florida are ‘Picadita’ and ‘Campeon.’ ‘Picadita’ is a dark, purple-red-skinned variety, usually grown in the fall and winter. ‘Campeon’ has a lighter red skin and is grown in the summer and fall.
Boniatos are grown in a manner similar to that for regular sweet potatoes. They are started by using plants called draws, slips, or transplants or by using vine cuttings. Transplants are grown from roots that have been bedded, with each root expected to produce from 8 to 12 plants. Vine cuttings may be taken from vigorously growing vines at the terminal or middle portions. These 8- to 10-inch long sections are planted at 12-inch intervals in rows spaced 3 to 4 feet apart.
Boniatos are planted year-round in South Florida, with harvests occurring 120 to 180 days after plants. The average growing season is 150 days. There is great variability in yields and performance from one plant to another. The average yields reported in Dade County were 5 to 6 tons per acre, in contrast to much higher yields reported for regular sweet potatoes in other areas of the state.
Gardeners wishing to try boniatos in their home plots will find it difficult to obtain roots or plants for starts. Sweet potato weevils and nematodes are serious pest problems with boniatos. Root decay caused by Rhizopus, Diplodia, and Fusarium prevents long-time storage of the roots.
The vine is also grown for its decorative foliage, vigorous growth habit and drought tolerance. The leaves bear alternate heart-shaped or palmately lobed leaves and medium-sized sympetalous flowers. The young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens. Though it requires full sun, it will grow in partial shade.
Sweet potato vines are propagated by stem cuttings that develop roots in just four or five weeks. This vine also thrives in summer heat, and can easily be trimmed when it outgrows its boundary or strays too far from its pot.
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