Sweet Potato Plants Flowering

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The sweet potato was grown in Polynesia before western exploration. Sweet potato has been radiocarbon-dated in the Cook Islands to 1000 AD, and current thinking is that it was brought to central Polynesia around 700 AD, possibly by Polynesians who had traveled to South America and back, and spread across Polynesia to Hawaii and New Zealand from there. It is possible, however, that South Americans brought it to the Pacific, although this is unlikely as it was the Polynesians, and not the native South Americans, who had a strong maritime tradition. The theory that the plant could spread by floating seeds across the ocean is not supported by evidence. Another point is that the sweet potato in Polynesia is the cultivated Ipomoea batatas, which is generally spread by vine cuttings and not by seeds. However, recent divergence time estimates suggest that sweet potatoes were present in Polynesia before humans. Additionally, there is evidence of long-distance dispersal from North America to Hawaii of other species of Ipomoea. This suggests natural long-distance dispersal of Ipomoea batatas is not implausible and may be the most parsimonious explanation for its presence in Polynesia.