Russets are easier to identify on the shelf than in the soil.

How to Identify a Russet Potato Vine

by Dan Ketchum

Although potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) lend themselves to a range of climates -- including U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 1 through 7 -- and an equally diverse range of dishes, they haven't caught on in home gardens as strongly as popular plants like lettuce and tomatoes. Among the hundreds of varieties of potatoes, russets are the kind most often found in grocery stores. Without the benefit of a produce label, you'll have to turn to some good old-fashioned attention to detail to figure out if you have russets in your garden.

1. Leaves and Stems

The stems of russet potato vines are characteristically thick and grow in an upright, spreading fashion. Stems and leaves have a pale-to-medium-green hue, and the wide, thick and leathery leaves feature rounded or pointed tips. The leaves grow in an opposite fashion on the vine, with each leaf measuring about 4 or 5 inches long.

2. Other Vine Characteristics

In addition to its thick, leathery leaves, russet potato vines may sport white, pink or reddish-purple flowers with wrinkled, papery petals. At maturity, common russet varieties such as "Russet Burbank" and "Russet Norkotah" reach spreads of about 18 to 26 inches and heights of about 18 to 24 inches.

3. Tubers

When it comes to potato plants, identification isn't all about greenery -- you can easily tell a russet potato from other varieties by a quick glance at its tubers. Clean the potato, allow it to dry and have a look at its skin. While golden and red potatoes have smooth, yellow or pinkish red skin, russet potatoes are typically dark brown to gray-brown with dry, rough skin that sometimes has a netted texture. Russet tubers come in the form of long, irregular cylinders with plentiful shallow eyes. These potatoes feature white, creamy white or very light yellow flesh.

4. Tips

Use markers to identify garden russets if you're planting them yourself. Write down the specific potato stock and the date on which you planted it on the tag to avoid future confusion. If you've come across plants in your garden that you can't identify, contact your local Cooperative Extension system office for additional help.

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