Potatoes are not only a major human food but also are processed for starch and alcohol. One common way in which plants reproduce without seeds is by sending out stems that grow underground. This technique is called vegetative reproduction. One major difference between reproducing by seeds and vegetative reproduction is the rate at which new plants are brought into being. Many do not flower for a long time even after the seeds have germinated, whereas the same varieties propagated from offshoots may flower in lesser time.
Potatoes are actually swollen underground stems, and their eyes have buds that can produce new shoots. The underground stems are called rhizomes. They might look more like roots but they are indeed stems complete with buds and even leaves. Growing longer each year, the rhizomes produce roots that reach downward at certain points, and shoots that push up and grow into new plants. In some plants, the tip of the rhizome develops into a tuber, an enlarged part used by the plant to store food.
The best known example of a tuber, the ordinary white potato, bears a number of small indentations on its surface, which are often referred to as eyes. Each eye is a miniature leaf with several little buds. If the potatoes are cut so that every piece has an eye, each will normally grow roots and stems. Potatoes sold in the stores are often chemically treated to inhibit bud growth.
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