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Dioscorea bulbifera - L.

Common Name Aerial Yam, Air Potato
Family Dioscoreaceae
USDA hardiness 9-12
Known Hazards Edible species of Dioscorea have opposite leaves whilst poisonous species have alternate leaves[ 174 ]. The aerial bulbs of this species contain toxic substances, including the alkaloid dioscorine[ 300 ]. This can be destroyed by thorough cooking[ 300 ]. Asiatic forms of the plant usually contain less alkaloids than plants originating in Africa[ 300 ]. There are forms that are almost or entirely free of toxins[ 332 ].(Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested)
Habitats Not known
Range E. Asia - Malaysia.
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (0 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Half Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Dioscorea bulbifera Aerial Yam, Air Potato

Dioscorea bulbifera Aerial Yam, Air Potato


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Dioscorea bulbifera or commonly known as Aerial Yam is a perennial, non-spiny, climbing plant up to 10 m long. It has a woody, tuberous rootstock and heart-shaped broad leaves. The twining stems produce aerial axillary bulbils that are edible. The plant is native to Africa, southern Asia, Maldives, and northern Australia. Some varieties are edible and cultivated as a food crop while others are poisonous. Aerial tubers should be thoroughly to destroy toxic alkaloid. Tubers are also cooked. It is also used medicinally to treat conjunctivitis, diarrhoea, dysentery. Root juice is taken to expel threadworm. Fruits are used to treat boils and fevers.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Dioscorea bulbifera is an evergreen Perennial Climber growing to 10 m (32ft) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 9. The flowers are pollinated by Wind, Insects.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very acid and very alkaline soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil and can tolerate drought.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Dioscorea crispata Roxb. Dioscorea heterophylla Roxb. Dioscorea latifolia Benth. Dioscorea oppositif

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Root
Edible Uses:

Aerial tubers - cooked[ 300 ]. An agreeable taste, they can be boiled, baked, fried etc[ 301 ]. They must be thoroughly cooked in order to destroy toxic alkaloids[ 300 ]. Wild forms of the plant are always toxic raw, though selected cultivars have been developed that are much lower, or even free from, the toxins[ 332 ]. The tubers are produced, and can be harvested, over a long period of time[ 301 ]. Root - cooked[ 300 ]. Roots are usually around 0.5kg, though they can be up to 1.5kg[ 300 ]. They are not always produced by the plants[ 300 ]. The inflorescences are apparently eaten[ 301 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antidiarrhoeal  Antifungal  Antihaemorrhoidal  Antiinflammatory  Antirheumatic  Diuretic  Febrifuge  Ophthalmic  
Parasiticide  Poultice  Skin

The juice of the roots is taken to expel threadworm[ 272 ]. The juice is dripped into wounds to expel worms and germs[ 272 ]. Both the tuber and the bulbil of wild races have medicinal uses[ 332 ]. In particular they are used externally, usually as a poultice, to treat wounds, sores, boils and inflammations; in dressings for treating dermal parasitic and fungal infections; or crushed, mixed with palm oil, and massaged onto areas of rheumatism, and for troubles of the breasts and for jiggers[ 332 ]. In India the tuber is considered to be diuretic and to be a remedy for diarrhoea and haemorrhoids[ 332 ]. The fruits are used to treat boils and for fever[ 332 ]. Sap expressed from the vine stems is applied to treat purulent ophthalmia, and for snake-bite[ 332 ]. The leaves are used, often by steam-distillation, against pink-eye[ 332 ]. Various medically active substances have been detected in the plant. Dioscorine has been detected in the tuber, though certain Nigerian material has been reported free of the alkaloid[ 332 ]. Alkaloids have been reported from the leaves and stems and particularly in the fruits[ 332 ]. Diosgenin has been detected at 0?45% concentration[ 332 ]. Saponin is present and a number of other pharmacologically active substances[ 332 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses


Other Uses: None known

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Food Forest  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Industrial Crop: Starch  Management: Standard  Minor Global Crop  Staple Crop: Basic Starch

A plant of the moist, lowland tropics. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 20 - 30°c, but can tolerate 12 - 38°c[ 418 ]. It can be killed by temperatures of 9°c or lower[ 418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 1,200 - 2,600mm, but tolerates 900 - 4,000mm[ 418 ]. It prefers a well-defined dry season of 2 - 3 months[ 418 ]. This species is more tolerant than most other yams of temperatures below 25°c[ 300 ]. For best yields, this species requires a deep, well-drained, sandy loam that is not liable to water-logging[ 300 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 6 - 6.7, tolerating 5.3 - 8[ 418 ]. Daylengths of more than 12 hours are preferred during the early growing season since this encourages vegetative growth; daylengths of less than 12 hours towards the end of the growing season will encourage tuber formation and development[ 300 ]. The bulbils are produced in 5 - 6 months from planting, though some forms can produce a crop in as little as 3 months[ 300 ]. Average yields of the bulbs are in the range of 3 - 5 tonnes per hectare, though up to 15 tonnes have been obtained[ 300 ]. The bulbils of selected cultivars tend to be angular with a flattened shape and a skin-colour which evokes the name 'turkey liver yam'. They may attain as much as 2 kg in weight but an average weight is about 0.5 kg. Races with increased bulbil production tend to show a reduction of the tuber, and in those with the highest bulbil return the tuber is but a woody rootstock[ 332 ]. Bulbils are ready for harvesting when they fall off the plant at a slight touch[ 332 ]. When produced, yields of 2 - 8 tonnes per hectare of the roots have been obtained[ 300 ]. There are some named varieties[ 300 ]. Aerial yam is a species of many races[ 332 ]. The wild ones, which are toxic raw, have globose, dark brown to liver-coloured, non-angular bulbils which serve as a famine-food, as do the tubers[ 332 ]. Wild strains are often planted intermixed with or on the perimeter of plantings of improved races as a protection against thieving[ 332 ]. Cattle eating them accidentally may be fatally poisoned showing frothing at the mouth and bloating[ 332 ]. The species is in the process of ennoblement and selected cultivars show in varying degree bitterness and poisonousness. Of some races even after prolonged preparation the bulbils remain bitter. Superior races are said to be very palatable and sweet, and to be entirely free from toxic substances so that consumption, even raw, is safe[ 332 ]. The skin is grey, lighter coloured than the wild forms, and the flesh is pale yellow to near white[ 332 ]. A dioecious species, both male and female plants need to be grown if seed is required. Flowering time: Late Fall/Early Winter. Bloom color: Pale Green Green

Carbon Farming

  • Industrial Crop: Starch  Materials and chemicals include bioplastics, paper, cardboard, solvents, paints, glues etc. Plants are usually pods, starchy fruits, nuts & seeds, starchy trunks.
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Minor Global Crop  These crops are already grown or traded around the world, but on a smaller scale than the global perennial staple and industrial crops, The annual value of a minor global crop is under $1 billion US. Examples include shea, carob, Brazil nuts and fibers such as ramie and sisal.
  • Staple Crop: Basic Starch  The Carbon Farming Solution. Eric Toensmeier.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - rarely produced, they are not normally used to propagate this species. Cuttings of tubers. Small tubers can be cut into 2 - 4 sections, larger ones into 6 - 8 sections. Each section should have 2 - 3 dormant buds. The cut tuber is often left in the sun for several hours to promote wound healing and reduce the risk of fungal infection[ 300 ]. Aerial tubers can also be used, they usually produce vigorous plants[ 300 ]. The aerial bulbs are often divided into 2 or more equal sized pieces[ 300 ]. Plants often need to be grown for two seasons in order to produce full-size aerial bulbs[ 300 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Abubu, Acom, Aerial Yam, Agbanio, Akam, Apuereka, Ban tarul, Banalu, Bantarul, Basel phauk, Batata de rama, Bayag-toro, Belloi, Bubaia, Cambare marron, Cara de are, Catoco, Chedupaddu-dumpa, Cheeky yam, Chitangula, Cu,aerial yam air potato air-potato ban tarul bengo nari bhyakur bitter yam brotwurzel buk bulb-bearing yam cheeky yam diha dukarkanda dukkarkanda genthi ghar tyaur githa heggenusu hisaki hoei-oepas hoi huang yao zi huángyàozi igname bulbifère inhame kamfo kanthamul kaya pendazam khashyo khe kisi kukur tarul kunta genusu ofika oviala papa voladora pas phor potatisjams potato yam pousse en l'air ratalu sakkisak tarul teme varahi varahi kand varahi kanda varahi (rhizome) varahika?da yamswurzel ñame de gunda

TEMPERATE ASIA: China (east & south). TROPICAL ASIA: India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, AUSTRALASIA: Australia, Queensland, Western Australia (north), Northern Territory, AFRICA: Tanzania, Uganda, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Côte D Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Described as one of the most aggressive weeds ever introduced into the United States (Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2008). It is a highly invasive plant included in the Global Compendium of Weeds (Randall, 2012), and which creates management problems in many parts of the world. Currently, this species is classified as a “noxious weed” in Alabama and Florida and as an invasive species in Cuba, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Pacific Islands including Hawaii, Fiji, French Polynesia, Niue and Palau [1d].

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed.

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Dioscorea alataWater Yam, Purple yam, Greater yam, White yamPerennial Climber15.0 10-12 FLMHSM412
Dioscorea batatasChinese YamPerennial3.0 4-11  LMHSNM553
Dioscorea cayennensisYellow Yam, Yellow Guinea yamPerennial Climber10.0 10-12 FLMSNM400
Dioscorea deltoideaYamPerennial Climber3.0 -  LMHSNM222
Dioscorea esculentaLesser Yam, Potato Yam, Chinese Yam, Wild YamPerennial Climber3.0 8-12 FLMSNM400
Dioscorea japonicaGlutinous Yam, Japanese yamPerennial Climber3.0 7-12  LMHNM420
Dioscorea kamoonensis Perennial Climber2.5 -  LMHNM21 
Dioscorea tokoro Perennial Climber0.0 -  LMHNM22 
Dioscorea trifidaCush Cush Yam, Sweet yamPerennial Climber3.0 10-12 FLMHSNM402
Dioscorea villosaWild YamPerennial Climber3.0 5-9  LMHNM24 
Tamus communisBlack BryonyPerennial Climber3.5 4-8 MLMHSNM12 

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References

Links / References

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A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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