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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - July 11, 2009

From: River Vale, NJ
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Edible Plants
Title: What is a groundnut? from River Vale NJ
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I just read the book "Mayflower" which talks about the Massachusetts natives and, subsequently, the Pilgrims eating groundnuts; mentions the groundnuts going to seed in early summer. What are groundnuts? Can you provide pictures?

ANSWER:

A fascinating question. When we first researched "groundnut" we found it referred to as a peanut. From this CGIAR website, Groundnut - Arachis hypogaea, we learned that this plant originated between Southern Bolivia and Northern Argentina, from where it was spread to the New World by Spanish explorers. Since there were no Spanish explorers around Massachusetts in the early 1600's and also since peanuts don't like the Massachusetts climate, we searched further.

We found a website "The Mary Rowlandson Story", about a woman who was born in the early 1600's in England, and brought to the colonies while still a small child. She married and was living in a small settlement in Massachusetts, when on February 10, 1676, she and her three children, one of whom was killed, were captured by Indians. She was later freed and published a book about her experience. On that website, we found  The Ground Nut: Apios americana or Apios tuberosa. 

Turns out Apios americana (groundnut) is, indeed, native not only to North America but to many of the states in North America. We can provide you with information and pictures from our Native Plant Database and Native Plant Image Gallery.  When you follow the plant link for the groundnut to our webpage on it in the Plant Database, you can go to the bottom of the page and use the Google link to more information on the plant.

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