We depend on donations from users of our database of over 8000 edible and useful plants to keep making it available free of charge and to further extend and improve it. In recent months donations are down, and we are spending more than we receive. Please give what you can to keep PFAF properly funded. More >>>

Follow Us:


Sphenostylis stenocarpa - (Hochst. Ex A.Rich.) Harms

Common Name African Yam Bean
Family Fabaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Brachystegia woodland, riparian and lakeshore bushland, grassland, roadsides, often in rocky places and on termite mounds, at elevations of 10 - 1,500, occasionally 2,000 metres[308 ].
Range Tropical Africa - Guinea to Ethiopia and south to Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (2 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (0 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Moist Soil Full sun
Sphenostylis stenocarpa African Yam Bean

Giessen / Fulda Library
Sphenostylis stenocarpa African Yam Bean


Translate this page:


African Yam Bean, Sphenostylis stenocarpa, is a tropical, fast-growing climbing vine growing up to 2 m in height from a tuberous rootstock. Its leaves are comprised of three leaflets each of 14 cm long and 5 cm wide. The flowers can be pink, purple, or greenish-white, occurring in the axils of the leaves. Seed pods are flat and smooth. This species has no medicinal uses. However, it is cultivated as food source particularly for its pods and roots. Immature seedpods and the seeds are cooked and used as a vegetable. The roots, high in protein, can also be consumed either raw or cooked. Similarly, the leaves are also cooked and consumed as a vegetable. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria that form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Sphenostylis stenocarpa is a PERENNIAL CLIMBER growing to 2 m (6ft) by 0.3 m (1ft in) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10.
It can fix Nitrogen.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid and neutral soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Dolichos stenocarpus Hochst. Ex A.Rich. Vigna ornata Welw. Ex Baker


Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves  Root  Seed  Seedpod
Edible Uses:

Immature seedpods - cooked and used as a vegetable[300 ]. The pods are up to 25cm long and 15mm wide[300 ]. Seeds - cooked[300 ]. Rich in protein, they are boiled and eaten as a vegetable, or added to soups etc[301 ]. The seed is about 9mm long[300 ]. Root - raw or cooked[300 ]. The white fleshed roots can be cooked like potatoes, which they resemble in taste[301 ]. They are rich in protein[301 ]. Leaves - cooked and used as a vegetable[300 ].

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

Now available: PLANTS FOR YOUR FOOD FOREST: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests and Permaculture Gardens.

An important new book from PFAF. It focuses on the attributes of plants suitable for food forests, what each can contribute to a food forest ecosystem, including carbon sequestration, and the kinds of foods they yield. The book suggests that community and small-scale food forests can provide a real alternative to intensive industrialised agriculture, and help to combat the many inter-related environmental crises that threaten the very future of life on Earth.

Read More


Other Uses

This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria that form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen.

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Food Forest

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Agroforestry Services: Nitrogen  Management: Standard  Regional Crop  Staple Crop: Protein

A plant of the tropics, where it is found at elevations up to 2,000 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 23 - 29°c, but can tolerate 15 - 35°c[418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 1,000 - 1,200mm, but tolerates 800 - 1,400mm[418 ]. Requires a dry period when flowering[300 ]. Prefers a position in full sun[418 ]. Grows best in a fertile, sandy soil[300 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 - 6, tolerating 4.5 - 7[418 ]. Although perennial, the plant is usually treated as an annual in cultivation[418 ]. Harvesting of the seedpods can commence about 5 months after sowing, and continue for another 2 months[300 ]. Tubers mature 7 - 8 months after sowing[300 ]. Optimum yields of the seed is 2 tonnes per hectare, and of the tubers 4 tonnes[418 ]. Plants are probably day length sensitive[300 ]. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[200 ]. When removing plant remains at the end of the growing season, it is best to only remove the aerial parts of the plant, leaving the roots in the ground to decay and release their nitrogen.

Carbon Farming

  • Agroforestry Services: Nitrogen  Plants that contribute to nitrogen fixation include the legume family – Fabaceae.
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.
  • Staple Crop: Protein  (16+ percent protein, 0-15 percent oil). Annuals include beans, chickpeas, lentils, cowpeas, and pigeon peas. Perennials include perennial beans, nuts, leaf protein concentrates, and edible milks.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

Type a value in the Celsius field to convert the value to Fahrenheit:



The PFAF Bookshop

Plants For A Future have a number of books available in paperback and digital form. Book titles include Edible Plants, Edible Perennials, Edible Trees, and Woodland Gardening. Our new book to be released soon is Edible Shrubs.

Shop Now


Seed - sow in situ[300 ]. Division of tubers[300 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Adagora barracha, Amalumbwe, Chinkhoma, Diegemtenguere, Girigiri, Ground Squirrel’s bean, Igname haricot, N'taco, Nkhoma, Norouko, Nsama, Odudu, Pempo, african yam bean, akitereku, girigiri, haricot grimpant, haricot igname, igname haricot, kotonosu, kulege, okpo dudu, pomme de terre du mossi, sese, sfenostilo, wild yam bean, yam bean, yam pea.

Native Plant Search

Search over 900 plants ideal for food forests and permaculture gardens. Filter to search native plants to your area. The plants selected are the plants in our book 'Plants For Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests and Permaculture Gardens, as well as plants chosen for our forthcoming related books for Tropical/Hot Wet Climates and Mediterranean/Hot Dry Climates. Native Plant Search

Found In

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

Africa, Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central Africa, Chad, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, East Africa, Ethiopia*, Ghana, Guinea, Guinée, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Southern Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, West Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

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

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.


Print Friendly and PDF

Expert comment


(Hochst. Ex A.Rich.) Harms

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.

Readers comment

Add a comment

If you have important information about this plant that may help other users please add a comment or link below. Only comments or links that are felt to be directly relevant to a plant will be included. If you think a comment/link or information contained on this page is inaccurate or misleading we would welcome your feedback at [email protected]. If you have questions about a plant please use the Forum on this website as we do not have the resources to answer questions ourselves.

* Please note: the comments by website users are not necessarily those held by PFAF and may give misleading or inaccurate information.

To leave a comment please Register or login here All comments need to be approved so will not appear immediately.

Subject : Sphenostylis stenocarpa  
© 2010, Plants For A Future. Plants For A Future is a charitable company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales. Charity No. 1057719, Company No. 3204567.