The common English name for this crop is spelled sweet potato or sweetpotato. The botanical name is Ipomoea batatas. In the US, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are sometimes called “yams,” but this name is more properly applied to the “true” yam, various species in the genus Dioscorea.
Although wild forms of sweet potato are not known to exist today, Central America and Peru are generally accepted as possible centers of origin for this crop. Sweet potato cultivation in the eastern and central Pacific predates European contact by several hundred years, possibly occurring as early as 1000 CE. This movement of sweet potato from the Americas to the Pacific islands has been the subject of much discussion.
Recent archaeological work indicates possible contacts between Polynesians and indigenous peoples in several locations along the western coast of the Americas. Sweet potatoes may have been introduced into the Pacific as a result of these contacts and subsequently spread throughout Polynesia. Regardless of its original means of dispersal, sweet potatoes remain an important food crop throughout the Pacific and in many other developing countries.
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Last updated 10 December 2012
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