Elephant’s foot yam

Family: Dioscoreaceae


Elephant’s foot yam is a spectacular shrubby climber, which grows up to 1.5m high. It has a huge tuber reaching a diameter of up to 75cm, which is mainly exposed above ground. The epidermis (skin) of the tuber is greyish-brown and hard, with numerous small plates of thick cork, (resembling the plates of a tortoise shell). Others have thought to resemble the skin of an elephant, hence the common name elephant’s foot yam. The inner tissue is yellowish-white, opaque and brittle.

Place of origin

Dioscorea elepantipes is restricted to South Africa.

Did you know?

Elephant’s foot yam contains very high levels of saponins (a class of chemical compounds from which steroid drugs come, which aid healing). Wild plants are often dug up by unscrupulous succulent plant collectors, or harvested for indigenous medicines. In the past the tubers were eaten by indigenous people in South Africa, after removing the toxic compounds. Nowadays the tubers are normally only consumed in times of famine.