The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Dates
Apparently extant during the Third Age1
Location
Known in the Shire, and presumably farther afield2
Species
Solanum tuberosum (assuming that potatoes in Middle-earth were of the same kind as the modern vegetable of that name)
Meaning
From Taino batata, originally referring to the sweet potato, perhaps influenced by Quechua papa
Other names
Known by Sam Gamgee as 'taters'

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About this entry:

  • Updated 19 April 2021
  • Updates planned: 1

Potatoes

Root vegetables that were apparently among the staple foods of the Hobbits. How they came to exist in Middle-earth is something of a mystery - in principle, they should not have appeared east of the Great Sea for several thousand years after the War of the Ring. Conceivably, the roots named 'potatoes' in Tolkien's work represent some other related plant such as the root known as earth-bread, or a crop brought east by the Númenóreans that later became extinct.


Notes

1

Our only references to potatoes by name come from the late Third Age, but they may have been known in Beleriand as early as the First Age. There are references from that period to a vegetable known as to the Petty-dwarves as 'earth-bread' that sounds remarkably similar to a potato, though the identity is not explicit.

Potatoes seem to have vanished from Middle-earth at some point after the Third Age (indeed it is hinted by Mím that Men would consume them completely if they knew the secret of 'earth-bread'). Whatever happened to them, there were no similar plants to be found in Europe until potatoes were introduced from the Americas in the sixteenth century (or perhaps 're-introduced', if they were indeed known in Middle-earth's earlier ages).

2

We only hear about literal potatoes from Hobbits (and indeed Samwise Gamgee's father Hamfast was held to be a particular expert on the subject). This surely does not mean, however, that potatoes were limited to the Shire, and indeed Sam fully expected to find them - or something like them - growing as far from the Shire as Ithilien.

See also...

Earth-bread

Indexes:

About this entry:

  • Updated 19 April 2021
  • Updates planned: 1

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