The beloved golden/orange sweet potatoes (Ipomea batata) are more closely related to morning glories (about 500 various Ipomea genus members are called morning glories or moon flowers) than they are to regular potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), and it shows in the shape of their roots. The “little” one in front is a morning glory root. Other than being 18″ (50cm) long in it’s shriveled state, it looks very much like a roughed up, pale sweet potato.
The crazy thing is that the enormous pantaloons root behind it is a morning glory root too. These are both roots from bush morning glory (Ipomea leptophylla), which grow wild in the Great Plains and up into some of the Rockies.
It had to take a long time to dig out a root this size, but the pay off is high. The Plains were inhabited by a good dozen or more nomadic Native American cultures before the arrival of the Europeans and all those fencelines. The iconic portable housing unit is the tipi (aka teepee), but it’s not enough to have your horses haul your house somewhere new. You have to bring your hearth too.
But how to carry fire? This is what made the morning glory roots so popular. The inside would be carved out a bit and then some choice embers loaded inside. The root itself is slow burning, and embers keep best huddled in a cocoon of ash, but most important, the huge root is light enough to carry and big enough to block the winds and rain with ease.
Knowledge of what’s underground (potentially or actually) tunes my eyes, uses curiosity to focus them on the vast potential for the local landscape to support life.