Dioscorea sylvatica


  • Dioscorea brevipes
  • Dioscorea hederifolia
  • Testudinaria glaucescens
  • Testudinaria paniculata
  • Testudinaria rehmannii

Common names are: Elephant’s Foot, Elephant’s Foot Yam, Wild Yam


-It is native of tropical areas of America, Africa and Asia.


-Dioscorea sylvatica is a slender twining herb, famouse and appreciated for his large caudex with annual stems growing from it. The caudex above ground is divided in polygonal plates, divided by furrows. Long, annual stems grow up to 4-5 mt in a season. If the plant germinates in a rich soil, the caudex will remain underground; in rocky soils, on the contrary, the plant will poke its caudex above ground.

This plant survive the drought thanks to its underground tuber that grows larger very slowly, and can become the size of an elephant’s foot after decades. The outer layer of this caudex it’s really important because it allows the plant to survive the heat (maintaining costant moisture) and protecting the plant against predation. Dioscorea sylvativa blooms from november to february, producing capsules (its fruits).


-Dioscorea sylvatica is an anusual and very easy to grow plant. It prefers light shade (but it’s important to keep the caudex in the shade). It needs regular watering during the growing season (autumn and winter) and no waterings when the tuber is dormant in summer. In general, waterings is important when the plant produces fresh shoots. The appearance of yellow leaves is an importan sign: the plant is receiving too much water; if the rhizome appears deflated, the plant must be watered.

Discorea sylvatica is poisonus: it may produce mild inflammation and/or itching when rubbed on the skin.


-It propagates by seeds. The caudex will grow much faster if left underground for the first couple of years.


-Dioscorea sylvatica was endangered during the ’50s as a result of intensive cultivation and harvesting because of the diosgenin, a substance contained in this plant used to produce cortisone.

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