College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Department of Plant Pathology

Sweetpotato — Why one word?

Charles W. Averre and L. George Wilson North Carolina State University

Sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) must not be confused in the minds of shippers, distributors, warehouse workers, and above all consumers with the equally unique and distinctive potato (Solanum tubersosum) or the yam (Dioscorea sp.) which are also grown and marketed commercially in the United States. Sweetpotatoes are of great importance to North Carolina, and must be propagated, grown, harvested, cured, graded, shipped, marketed, consumed and promoted in the market as a unique commodity. Promoting its uniqueness will ultimately reduce consumer confusion, enhance acceptance, and increase profitability of sweetpotatoes.

If sweetpotatoes are handled like potatoes, e.g. refrigerated in the marketplace or in the hands of the consumer, these delicious roots will be become mushy and unfit for eating as they are apt to develop, internal black streaks, hard core, and rots. Unfortunately, sweetpotato is often listed as "potato, sweet" and as such is apt to be treated as a type of potato along with Irish potato, red potato, white potato, baking potato etc. and placed under refrigeration.

When the North Carolina Sweetpotato Commission replaced the "Yam Commission" in January 1989, they endorsed and adopted the single-word spelling. The National Sweetpotato Collaborators Group, during their 50th anniversary meeting at Nashville, Tennessee in February of 1989, unanimously adopted the one-word spelling for sweetpotato. The National Sweetpotato Collaborators Group is petitioning other groups, associations, dictionary publishers, and editors to also adopt the one-word spelling for sweetpotato.

Precedents for using one-word spellings for such terms are many. For example, all grasses are spelled as one word (bentgrass, bermudagrass, sugarcane and many others); other plants and plant products have a one-word spelling: airplant, aniseroot, grapefruit, beautyberry, garlicvine, goldapple, jadeplant, jimsonweed, poisonberry, sunflower, tuliptree, yellowcress, and many others. In many cases confusion arises with a two-word spelling because the first word can be interpreted as an adjective modifying a noun. For example "goldapple" is a tomato, but if spelled as "gold apple" most people would think it is an ordinary apple with a gold skin color. As you may know, the United States Department of Agriculture for years has used the one-word spelling for sweetpotato to avoid such problems.

Please assist in this important effort to adopt the one-word spelling for sweetpotato. For example, use the one-word spelling in your news releases and recommendations, modify your word processors to accept the single word spelling, and prepare news releases to encourage other groups to use sweetpotato.