Dioscorea elephantipes ranks as one of my favorite caudiciforms. I can still remember the first time I was introduced to a similar species, also from the yam family. I had just moved to California, about 1977. I was visiting an indoor plant shop when I was stopped in my tracks. Here was a plant that looked like a tortoise shell with a vine growing out of the middle! It looked like a living rock! Later I was able to identify this living curiosity as Dioscorea macrostchya, a close relative to D. elephantipes from Mexico.
Dioscorea elephantipes originates from South Africa. Mature specimens weight can reach in the hundreds of pounds, and up to 7 feet in diameter! Most plants in cultivation are much smaller, but just as impressive. Almost all my personal specimens started out as small 2-3 inch diameter plants. After about 10-13 years my plants are now blooming and producing seeds. D. elephantipes is dioecious, which means you must have a male and female plant to produce flowers. Unfortunately this species seems to produce more male plants than female. In my collection female plants are about 25% of the total collection. These plants can be slow growing , but well worth the time and effort. I have just planted-out four plants in my garden to see if they will grow faster and produce more seed, two male and two female plants. I will update this page in the future to keep everyone updated.
Dioscorea elephantipes is an easy to grow caudiciform, as long as you follow certain guidelines. Young plants grow best with a topdressing of gravel covering most of the caudex. New roots grow from the outer edge of the caudex, so they are best protected with a well drained layer of gravel. Your soil mix should be a minimum 50% inorganics like pumice, and 50% organics. Do not over pot! I would rather grow my plants slowly and keep them alive. D. elephantipes go dormant for a short time between May and June. I cut my watering back to about half as often as when actively growing. When dormant you can cut the dead vines back to about 1-2 inches above the caudex. When the new vines start to emerge, slowly resume your regular watering schedule. The caudex of D. elephantipes likes partial sun or shade, while the vine can grow in full sun. Light regular fertilization will keep your vines dark green, and maintain steady caudex growth.
Dioscorea elephantipes in full "Vine"
Example of roots growing on outside edge of the caudex.
Dioscorea elephantipes seed pods.
Seeds from my personal plants!
There are many species of Dioscorea. This is Dioscorea hemicrypta.