Anyone who's grown sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatus) knows about their rampant growth. Until recently, gardeners selected most varieties for their tuber production, not foliage. However, many growers recognize some unusual sweet potatoes for their ornamental qualities as well because they look great in containers, serve as attractive annual ground covers, and even flourish in window boxes. I'm excited about three varieties in this category: 'Margarita', 'Blackie', and 'Pink' (the latter is sometimes sold as 'Tricolor').
'Margarita' has heart-shaped, shocking-chartreuse leaves. It grows quickly enough to fill a half-whiskey-barrel container in only six weeks. The leaf color and foliage hold up well under the summer sun, and the leaves' tips may turn red when grown in full sun.
'Blackie' has deeply lobed purplish green leaves, and it grows as vigorously as 'Margarita'.
'Pink' (or 'Tricolor') has variegated pale green and violet-pink leaves with white fringed edges. It grows more slowly and has a more delicate look than the other two varieties.
As with all sweet potatoes, these types grow best when planted in warm soil (at least 60°F) where they receive full sun. Water generously throughout the growing season. And yes, these ornamental varieties produce edible tubers, but they aren't as tasty as the more common commercial varieties.
Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association