Answer: Sweet potato vine, Ipomoea batatas, is a true sweet potato complete with tubers, but has bolder, more colorful foliage than its vegetable sibling. Unfortunately, it is either beauty or bounty with ornamental sweet potatoes because the underground tubers are bitter and not considered edible.
The sweet potato vine is a tropical plant grown as an annual in Vermont. Though full sun is preferred, it will grow in partial shade. Keep the soil moderately moist at all times or the vines will clearly let you know they are thirsty by quickly wilting, with limp flagged leaves. Fortunately, it is a very forgiving plant that will quickly perk up once thoroughly watered.
Unlike its cousin, the morning glory which is easily grown from seed, sweet potato vines are propagated by stem cuttings that develop roots in just four or five weeks.
The unique foliage and forms make ornamental sweet potato vines popular as "spillers" in containers and "sprawlers" in border flower gardens. One sweet potato vine in a container will quickly fill in around the rim of the pot and spill over the edges. In the garden, sweet potato vine is an impressive, fast-growing annual ground cover that should be planted no closer than two feet apart. This vine also seems to thrive in summer heat, but can easily be trimmed when it outgrows its boundary or strays too far from its container.
The three most commonly grown varieties of ornamental sweet potato vines are 'Blackie', 'Marguerite,' and 'Tricolor' ('Pink Frost'.) 'Blackie' has deep purple to nearly black foliage with large, deep cut leaves. Bold, chartreuse green, heart-shaped leaves characterize 'Marguerite' and 'Tricolor' is a less-vigorous variety with multi-colored variegated leaves in shades of green, white, and pink. The "Tri-color' leaves are small with pointy lobes. A new variety, 'Carolina Purple', has dark purple foliage and a more restrained growth habit.
Sweet potato vines are "chameleons" that emphasize and enhance the flowers and foliage of nearby plants. 'Blackie' and 'Marguerite' bring out the burgundy and green in coleus and contrast beautifully with both variegated plants and bright colors. The pink hues in 'Tricolor' leaves appear bolder and more visible when planted with pink or fuchsia-colored flowers.
Sweet potato vines are great in containers.
Best wishes with your new plants.
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