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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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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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Tuesday - June 26, 2012

From: Columbia, MO
Region: Midwest
Topic: Planting, Propagation
Title: Propagating plant cuttings in cut potato from Columbia MO
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hello. I belong to a garden group and one of the members posted a "tip" she found in an early 2000 garden magazine. I wanted to see if there was any truth to the tip? Basically the tip was to use a potato to help propagate plant cuttings. Simply cut a tiny hole in the potato and stick your prepared cutting into it and supposedly, it will root. Other members said they had heard that the pioneers had used this trick to take rose cuttings from one place to another. Is there any truth to this? I've been searching the edu's and can't find anything and only a few mentions at "questionable" sites like "E-how". Thank you! Dea Hollembeak

ANSWER:

We are afraid we don't know any more about this than anyone else. It doesn't involve native plants (no, not even the potato) so it's pretty far out of the realm of our expertise.

We went to our favorite website on taking cuttings from North Carolina State University Information on Plant Propagation by Stem Cuttings and it certainly made no mention of potatoes. As we read the article, we noted it recommended keeping the cutting in the chosen medium enclosed in some way to retain moisture. My thinking is that, under those conditions, the first thing that would sprout would be the potato. We all know about leaving a potato too long in the bin and coming back to find it sprouting merrily. A raw potato is of a pretty dense texture and would not be receptive to small new rootlets. And it would sure be easier to use pots and medium designed for the purpose to propagate new plants from cuttings.

On the subject of transporting rose cuttings in potato halves in pioneer times, we have heard the same story. Since there was no Facebook or Internet in those days, we would relegate it to simply that, a story. A nice one, and certainly roses travelled from the Old World to the New World in some way, that sounds as good as any, since they couldn't go to a local nursery and buy pots and soil, or rose bushes. When we have all the resources we have now, we would recommend baking the potato and don't forget the sour cream.

 

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