As warmer weather approaches, it can be difficult to find vegetables that can survive through the heat of Florida summers, particularly in South Florida. Boniato (Ipomoea batatas) is one choice for gardeners looking to grow something tasty year-round. Also called tropical sweet potato, batatas, or camote, boniato is a member of the morning glory family. This relative of sweet potato is quite popular in South Florida. And just like sweet potato, boniato originated in Central America, and has been cultivated as early as 1000 BC in Columbia and Peru.
You may have noticed that the Latin name for boniato, Ipomoea batatas, is the same for sweet potatoes. Boniato is considered a cross between a baking potato and a sweet potato in terms of flavor and color. You can distinguish boniato from other potatoes by its pink to burgundy-colored skin and creamy white flesh. In terms of taste, boniato is much fluffier, drier, and less sweet than the orange-fleshed sweet potato. With a flavor some find similar to chestnuts, boniato can be used as a sweet potato substitute in almost any recipe.
Harvested boniato is sensitive to cold, so it's best to store in a cool, dry pantry. Refrigeration is generally too cool for these tubers that do best when stored above 55 degrees.
Planting and Care
Boniatos can be grown similarly to sweet potatoes. You can start with draws, slips, transplants, or vine cuttings. Plants should be spaced 12 inches apart from each other in rows that are spaced 3 to 4 feet apart. In South Florida, boniato can be planted year-round. There is a lot of variability in yields and performance from one plant to another; however, harvests generally occur between 120 and 180 days after planting. Yield for boniato is not as high for sweet potato, which can be a blessing—they don't keep for long once harvested or prepared. Tubers are a bit tender and prone to bruising, and cooked boniato can become dry when stored too long. Sweet potato weevils and nematodes are serious pest problems when growing boniatos.
Two varieties of boniato are grown commercially in South Florida: 'Picadia', which is grown in the fall and winter and 'Campeon', which is grown in the summer and fall.
For more information on growing boniata and other vegetables, contact your local county Extension office.