Photo and article by Donna Iverson
There is a certain sophistication and understated beauty found in outdoor potted planters that focus on leaves instead of flowers.
Take for example this arrangement with coleus, licorice plant, and the sweet potato vine (center front). A native of the Americas, sweet potato vine is first cousin to the more commonly known sweet potato plants found in many a Michigan garden.
Ornamental sweet potato vine is drought tolerant and the vines can grow to 10 feet long. A perennial, it is hardy in zones 9 to 11 and will not survive our frigid winters. It will adjust to full sun or shade but prefers temperatures in the tropical range above 75 degrees. The color intensity of the heart-shaped leaf depends on how much sun it is exposed to with darker leaf color developing in shady spots. It will occasionally produce a small pink flower but it is extremely rare.
The underground tubers, while edible, do not compare to the regular sweet potato root we are all used to. But the tubers can be dug up in the fall and replanted in the spring. The plant can also be propagated from cuttings.
Pests include aphids and whitefly which can be removed by spraying with a hose. On the plus side, the plant requires minimal care.
If you do grow potted sweet potato vines, they can be taken inside during the winter and treated like a houseplant.
When it comes to foraging, there are two other ornamentals in addition to the sweet potato vine that have edible tubers. These include the daylily and the dahlia.