Potato Genetics: Introduction

The potato was cultivated originally in Chile and the Peru-Bolivian plateau. It seems that Chile and the neighbouring islands off the coast of Chile were the chief centres from which the cultivated solanum tuberosum was derived.

The first mention of potatoes in Europe is by Clusius in 1587, who received some tubers from Spain. A year later Gerarde obtained some from (or via) Virginia.

There is little doubt that these two introductions are the source of all potatoes cultivated in Europe up to 1851. They were described as follows:

CLUSIUS: Upright habit, bronzed stem, flower dark heliotrope, skin smooth and beetroot-red, shape cylindrical and irregular, eyes very deep, flesh white, very late maturing.

GERARDE: Spreading habit, red in midrib, pale heliotrope flower, tubers white and smooth,, shape round to oval, irregular; deep eyes, flesh pale yellow, maincrop.

Both were heterozygous in a number of characters and variations must have occurred as soon as plants were raised sexually from seed.

By the end of the 1700s, varieties with white, pale red, particoloured, dark red and black-skinned tubers were known, as well as forms with white or yellow flesh. Round, oval kidney and long finger-shaped tubers with deep, medium or shallow eyes; colourless and coloured eyes; early and late maturing, and dwarf and tall stocks, all abounded.

In 1851, a new cultivated potato was obtained by Goodrich from Chile. It was named "Rough Purple Chile" and from it in later generations were raised Early Rose and Beauty of Hebron, both of which were used as parents by English breeders. About 1900 some other species (solanum commersonii, solanum edinense) were introduced and crossed with domestic varieties but little came of it. All cultivated European varieties are forms of solanum tuberosum. ...paraphrased from Crane and Lawrence, 1934)

Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

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