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Dioscorea esculenta - (Lour.) Burkill.

Common Name Lesser Yam, Potato Yam, Chinese Yam, Wild Yam
Family Dioscoreaceae
USDA hardiness 8-12
Known Hazards Edible species of Dioscorea have opposite leaves whilst poisonous species have alternate leaves[ 174 ].(Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested)
Habitats Not known
Range E. Asia - India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, New Guinea.
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (0 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (0 of 5)
Care (info)
Half Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Dioscorea esculenta Lesser Yam, Potato Yam, Chinese Yam, Wild Yam

Dioscorea esculenta Lesser Yam, Potato Yam, Chinese Yam, Wild Yam


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Lesser Yam or Dioscorea esculenta is a perennial, climbing plant with a tuberous rootstock. It has spines and it can climb up to about 2.4 m high and spread up to 1.8 m across. The leaves are often heart-shaped It is often cultivated as root crop in tropical areas in East Asia. Though some varieties can be poisonous, most are edible. The tuber has a yellow or white flesh. It is cooked and used as vegetable. It has a sweet and pleasant flavour similar to that of sweet potato or chestnuts.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Dioscorea esculenta is an evergreen Perennial Climber growing to 3 m (9ft) 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) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Dioscorea aculeata L. Dioscorea fasciculata Roxb. Dioscorea papillaris Blanco Dioscorea papuana Warb

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Root
Edible Uses:

Root - cooked and used as a vegetable[ 300 ]. Sweet and pleasant, with a flavour somewhat like sweet potato or chestnuts[ 301 ]. The tubers are oval, up to 20cm long and 6 - 8cm in diameter. Each plant can produce 5 - 20 tubers. The flesh is yellow or white and the average tuber weight may be 250 - 1,000g, though larger ones can weight 3,000g[ 300 , 418 ].

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.

None known

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

None known

Special Uses

Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

A plant of the drier to wet tropical lowlands, where it is found at elevations up to 900 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 28 - 32°c, but can tolerate 17 - 45°c[ 418 ]. It can be killed by temperatures of 9°c or lower[ 418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 800 - 2,000mm, but tolerates 600 - 8,000mm[ 418 ]. Plants like a well-defined dry season of 2 - 5 months[ 418 ]. This species will grow in drier climates than other yams, so long as the rainfall is evenly distributed through the year[ 300 ]. Succeeds in full sun and also in light shade[ 418 ]. For best yields, this species requires a deep, well-drained, sandy loam that is not liable to water-logging[ 300 ]. This species will succeed in poor gravelly soils, especially if enriched with organic matter[ 300 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 - 6.5, tolerating 4.5 - 8.5[ 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 ]. Crops take 7 - 10 months to mature, yields of 7 - 20 tonnes per hectare have been achieved[ 300 ]. There are some named varieties[ 300 , 301 ]. Two main forms of this plant are sometimes recognised:- Var fasciculata (Roxb.)Prain. & Burk. Arose in cultivation and has no spines. Var spinosa (Roxb.)Prain. & Burk. Is believed by many botanists to be the wild form. It has thorny roots protecting the crown of the rootstock[ 266 , 300 ]. This is a variable characteristic, however[ 300 ]. The plant rarely produces flowers[ 418 ]. A dioecious species, both male and female plants need to be grown if seed is required.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - not normally used to propagate this species. Cuttings of tubers. Pieces of tuber, each weighing around 50 - 80g with dormant buds, are planted in situ 4 - 8cm deep with the stem pointing downwards[ 300 ]. The cut tuber is often first left in the sun for several hours to promote wound healing and reduce the risk of fungal infection[ 300 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Ama-yama-imo, Apali, Birch-rind yam, Buga, Couche-couche douce, Cu tu gai, Diba, Gan shu, Gembili, Goa potato, Harau, Hisu, Huwi butul, Huwi jahe, Huwi kamayung, Huwi landak, Kangar, Kawai, Kembili, Kemili, Kizahangu Kodi, Manalu, Man-chuak, Musilam valli kilangu, Pana, Sasniali, Sathni, Silakadom, Sinnavalli-kelangut, Siruvalli kilangu, Siu-chue-shue, Su nialu, Sudo, Suthni, Taitu, Taitukava, Tippa tiga, Tivvitiga, Tonga, Tu gai, Tugi, Tungo, Ubi-arumanis, Ubitorak, Ufi Lei, 'Uhilei, Uwhikaho, Wale, Ware, Yava-ala,

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Africa, Asia, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, Central Africa, Central America, China, Comoros, Congo, Cook Islands, Côte d'Ivoire, East Africa, East Timor, Fiji, New Caledonia, Ghana, Guiana, Guyana, Hawaii, India, Indochina, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Laos, Madagascar, Malaysia, Martinique, Myanmar, Nauru, New Caledonia, Nigeria, Northeastern India, Pacific, Papua New Guinea, PNG, Philippines, SE Asia, Solomon Islands, South America, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, USA, Vanuatu, Vietnam, West Africa, West Indies,

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.

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 bulbiferaAerial Yam, Air PotatoPerennial Climber10.0 9-12 FLMHSNM420
Dioscorea cayennensisYellow Yam, Yellow Guinea yamPerennial Climber10.0 10-12 FLMSNM400
Dioscorea deltoideaYamPerennial Climber3.0 -  LMHSNM222
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.


Expert comment


(Lour.) Burkill.

Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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