More Information About Apios
Apios is a genus of 8 species of vines in the Fabaceae family (peas and beans). Two of the 8 species are native to North America (A. priceana and A. americana) and these were both widely used by Native Americans and colonists as a food source. It is even said that the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock ate groundnuts to get them through those first difficult winters and that Sir Walter Raleigh brought groundnuts from his North Carolina colony back to England. Today, Apios priceana is a federally endangered species and Apios americana is being studied as a possible domestic food crop. Don't let the common name, groundnut, fool you, this is not a peanut (although they are related).
The other 6 species of Apios are from China and Southeast Asia. They too are used as a food source in the far east, but are not generally cultivated here in the west. As you might already have guessed from its family heritage, Apios produces edible beans, but its primary culinary product is its large potato-like tuber. In fact, during the Irish potato famine in the 1840's, Europeans toyed with the idea of swapping potatoes for Apios americana. They ultimately rejected it because the tubers took several years to reach a harvestable size and the tubers spread widely underground to fill in the spaces in between rows making it difficult use mechanized farm tools to weed and harvest. This spreading habit, however, makes Apios great for erosion control.
Of course we like Apios for its ornamental traits, of which there are many. Let's see...it is a twining vine, it produces a small, powerfully fragrant, wisteria-like flower cluster that is white, pink, red, purple or chocolate brown depending on the species. The flowers are produced in late summer and fall and are followed by attractive brown bean pods. The flowers are not as big as its cousin wisteria, and are hidden beneath the foliage, so Apios has languished in relative obscurity as an ornamental plant with the exception of a short period of time in the 1800s when it was popular in France. Apios prefers full sun or part shade, well drained soil and plenty of moisture. In the wild, Apios is often seen growing on river banks and in moist, sandy forests. If you are curious about the edibility of Apios the tuber supposedly tastes sweet and nutty like a sweet potato and the seeds (beans) are not unlike pinto beans. When you are ready to buy Apios for your garden, check out our online list of Apios for sale.