Claire is responsible for writing today’s entry:
Robert Klips (Orthotrichum@Flickr) provided us with this photograph of the flowers of Apios americana via the BPotD Flickr Pool, taken August 22, 2009 in Pickaway County, Ohio, USA. Thank you, Robert!
Apios americana is a legume (Fabaceae) native to eastern & central USA and eastern Canada. I thought this particular species worth writing about as it is very well known for its starchy, edible, tuberous rhizomes. Commonly called “groundnut” or “hopniss”, Apios americana was a crucial food source for North American indigenous peoples and early British settlers. The edible parts of the plants include the swollen nodes of the underground rhizomes. The tuber is high in starch and even moreso in protein (3x that of potato!). The species was considered a potential saviour to the Irish potato famine. Unfortunately, domesticating Apios americana, something the English tried in both 1635 and 1845, proved to be unfavorable as the tubers take two to three years to mature and did not take well to conditions in Britain (the vegetative structures do not thrive in frost). It has also been noted that the native peoples of the eastern United States were unable, or unwilling, to fully domesticate the species. Sometimes, seed was spread around villages in hopes to increase its frequency in populated areas, as the tubers were extensively collected.
The taste of Apios americana is comparable to that of a sweet potato–the tuber can be baked, boiled, dried and probably whatever other method of cooking you can think of.
If you happen to be collecting in eastern North America, the vegetative parts of groundnut look very much like the cultivated pea vine one would find in a garden, but grows wild in the woods. Along with the tuber, the seeds and seedpods are also cited to be edible, though they are not produced in great quantity. Of course, also look for the lovely hooded flowers. The blossoms utilize a “tripping” mechanism; for those who don’t know, when the keel, or bottom petal, is landed on by a bee, an explosion of pollen covers the insect and the pistil is then exposed and ready for a new pollen bearer. This is a pollination mechanism common in the Fabaceae.