When Colin Craig-Brown received a long-awaited email from Guinness World Records last week, his heart sank.
For the past seven months, the New Zealand man and his wife believed that they had discovered the world’s largest potato, weighing more than 17 pounds. The email, however, informed them that their purported potato – which they named Dug – was actually no spud.
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“Sadly the specimen is not a potato and is, in fact, the tuber of a type of gourd,” the email from a Guinness World Records spokesperson read. “For this reason we do unfortunately have to disqualify the application.”
Colin, 62, couldn’t believe what he was reading.
“Honey, they reckon it’s not even a potato!” he said to his wife, Donna Craig-Brown, 60.
The couple, who live on a small farm in the Waikato region of the country’s North Island, were baffled.
Since they stumbled upon the 17.2-pound mass in their garden last August, the presumed potato – which Colin took a slice of and sampled, raw – has emerged as an Internet celebrity of sorts, and the stunning discovery has been covered widely in the news media, including The Washington Post.
As people near and far marveled at the mammoth mound, the couple decided to submit an application to Guinness World Records for “the world’s heaviest potato” – a title currently held by Peter Glazebrook of Britain. His 11-pound potato broke the record in 2011.
The couple believed that Dug was, without a doubt, a potato, and that the record belonged to their spud, which is still being stored in their freezer.
“It looked like a tater, it tasted like a tater, it grew like a tater,” Colin explained. “So I figured it’s a tater.”
Plus, the underground discovery was verified several times by gardening experts, including an agronomist whose job it is to study soil and crop production.
“He was more than confident that, yes, it’s obviously a potato,” Colin said. “There was never any question from anyone that looked at it or touched it.”
Yet DNA testing conducted by scientists at the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research, as well as analysts at Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA), disproved Dug’s purported identity.
Rather than a spud, the results stipulated that the sample was a tuber – the underground stem of a plant. In this case, the plant was a gourd, which could be any hard-shell fruit, such as a pumpkin, cucumber or squash.
“We tried running multiple tests on samples of [Dug]but he just wasn’t behaving like a potato should, “said Samantha Baldwin, a researcher at the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research, in a statement provided to The Washington Post.” We then sent samples to Scotland for more in -depth analysis. “
“Doug is a gourd, it turns out,” echoed Alex Reid, a scientist at SASA. “We did DNA sequencing and found that the DNA more closely matched members of the gourd family.”
Following the comprehensive investigation, Adam Millward, the managing editor of Guinness World Records, said in a statement: “It’s been a fascinating journey, but we’re glad to have got to the root, or rather the tuber, of this matter.”
Despite the definitive results, the Craig-Browns were very confused, since “I’ve never had a gourd in the garden,” Colin said.
Some clarity came a couple days later when, “after a few sleepless nights,” they realized a possible explanation: At one point, they did grow some hybrid cucumbers – which are made from crossing two standard varieties of cucumbers. Crossbred cucumbers can sometimes produce unpredictable plants. Hence: Dug.
Learning that their beloved spud was not a true tater was “a hard pill to swallow,” Colin said. The news of Dug’s mistaken identity was “sort of deflating,” since he still “had things to do and people to see, and awards and celebrations to attend.”
But as was the case when they first found him, this is “one of mother nature’s little surprises. Instead of Dug the spud, he turned out to be Dug the dud,” Colin said.
For the foreseeable future, Dug will remain in the couples’ freezer, as their young grandchildren enjoy regularly peeking at the peculiar growth.
Before it inevitably becomes time to dispose of Dug, “I’m going to take a mold of him so at least my grandchildren can show their children the giant potato,” Colin said, adding that regardless of his species, Dug will live on as a family legend.
At the end of the day, “he’s still ‘Dug the dominator from down under,'” said Colin. “Dug is in my heart; he’s always going to be there.”
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