Dioscorea bulbifera

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air potato
Dioscorea bulbifera at Kadavoor.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
Order: Dioscoreales
Family: Dioscoreaceae
Genus: Dioscorea
Species: D. bulbifera
Binomial name
Dioscorea bulbifera
  • Helmia bulbifera (L.) Kunth
  • Polynome bulbifera (L.) Salisb.
  • Dioscorea sylvestris De Wild.
  • Dioscorea tamifolia Salisb.
  • Dioscorea crispata Roxb.
  • Dioscorea heterophylla Roxb.
  • Dioscorea pulchella Roxb.
  • Dioscorea tenuiflora Schltdl.
  • Dioscorea latifolia Benth.
  • Dioscorea hoffa Cordem.
  • Dioscorea hofika Jum. & H.Perrier
  • Dioscorea anthropophagorum A.Chev.
  • Dioscorea longipetiolata Baudon
  • Dioscorea rogersii Prain & Burkill
  • Dioscorea korrorensis R.Knuth
  • Dioscorea perrieri R.Knuth

Dioscorea bulbifera, the air potato, is a species of true yam in the yam family, Dioscoreaceae. It is known as varahi in Sanskrit, kaachil in Malayalam and dukkar kand in Marathi. In the Maldives it's known as Mathivah, Assidha Kattala or Bileh Kattala. It is native to Africa, southern Asia, India, Maldives, China, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, etc.) and northern Australia.[1] It is widely cultivated and has escaped to become naturalized in many regions (Latin America, the West Indies, the southeastern United States, and various oceanic islands).[1]


Dioscorea bulbifera is a perennial vine with broad leaves and two types of storage organs. The plant forms bulbils in the leaf axils of the twining stems, and tubers beneath the ground. These tubers are like small, oblong potatoes. Some varieties are edible and cultivated as a food crop, especially in West Africa. The tubers of edible varieties often have a bitter taste, which can be removed by boiling. They can then be prepared in the same way as other yams, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.

The air potato is one of the most widely-consumed yam species. It can grow up to 150 feet tall.[2]

Air potato can grow extremely quickly, roughly 8 inches per day,[3] and eventually reach over 60 feet long[citation needed]. It typically climbs to the tops of trees and has a tendency to take over native plants. New plants develop from bulbils that form on the plant, and these bulbils serve as a means of dispersal. The aerial stems of air potato die back in winter, but resprouting occurs from bulbils and underground tubers.

The primary means of spread and reproduction are via bulbils. The smallest bulbils make control of air potato difficult due to their ability to sprout at a very small stage. The vine produces small white flowers, however these are rarely seen when it grows in Florida. The fruits are capsules.[4]


Air potato has been used as a folk remedy to treat conjunctivitis, diarrhea and dysentery, among other ailments.[5]


Uncultivated forms, such as those found growing wild in Florida, can be poisonous. These varieties contain the steroid diosgenin, which is a principal material used in the manufacture of a number of synthetic steroidal hormones, such as those used in hormonal contraception.[6] There have been claims[7] that even the wild forms are rendered edible after drying and boiling, leading to confusion over actual toxicity.

Invasive species

In some places, such as Florida, it is considered a noxious weed because of its quick-growing, large-leafed vine that spreads tenaciously and shades out any plants growing beneath it. The bulbils on the vines sprout and become new vines, twisting around each other to form a thick mat. If the plant is cut to the ground, the tubers can survive for extended periods and send up new shoots later.[8]Species Profile- Air Potato (Dioscorea bulbifera), National Invasive Species Information Center, United States National Agricultural Library.

The leaf beetle Lilioceris cheni has been studied and employed as an agent of biological pest control for the plant, with releases in 2012.[9][10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  2. Flora of China, Vol. 24 Page 287, 黄独 huang du, Dioscorea bulbifera Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 1033. 1753.
  3. Invasives Database, TexasInvasives.org, Dioscorea bulbifera
  4. Flora of North America, Dioscorea bulbifera Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 1033. 1753.
  5. Duke, J. A.; Judith L. DuCellier (1993). Handbook of Alternative Cash Crops. CRC Press. ISBN 0-8493-3620-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Meet the plants: Dioscorea bulbifera". National Tropical Botanical Garden. Retrieved 2007-11-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Pest Plants, Air Potato: Dioscorea bulbifera". WalterReeves.com. Jan 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Air potato takes over". The Nature Conservancy. Archived from the original on May 15, 2007. Retrieved February 10, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Field release of Lilioceris cheni Gressit & Kimoto (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) for biological control of air potato, Dioscorea bulbifera (Dioscoreaceae), in the continental United States: Environmental Assessment. USDA. 2011.
  10. Morgan, C. In South Florida, a tiny new weapon against the invasive potato vine. Miami Herald September 21, 2012. Archived October 5, 2012 at the Wayback Machine

External links

Further reading