Elephant foot yam
In 2013, I started growing Elephant Yam, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius. This tropical, forest margin-dwelling, winter herbaceous perennial root crop is native to India, SE Asia, New Guinea and Australia. Not content with being a curiously ornamental flower and a splendid houseplant, this is a pedigree native root crop – nutty-tasting and of high cultural significance. It is recorded as one of the earliest crops cultivated by indigenous Australians. And I’ve learned something new from my partner: its stems make a tasty meal.
This tropical, winter herbaceous perennial root crop is native to India, SE Asia, New Guinea and Australia. It is recorded as one of the earliest crops cultivated by indigenous Australians.
First up, I propagated my tuber gift, splitting it into five and growing them in separate pots. Around October they sprout into new growth – a single, finely divided leaf held aloft by a straight stalk. Spring storms encourage growth which continues through our summer wet season. Expect a few suckers; within a year my one plant became thirty eight; food production that is scalable can be handy.
Watch them being cultivated here.
Mature plants produce a single bloom in spring, which may soon be joined by a single leaf and later on, maybe some suckers. Immature plants just produce a single leaf. Leaves grow visibly after a good summer soaking, the time of year when life in general in subtropical Brisbane bustles noisily – frogs, owls, cicadas, and geckos add their voices to the twenty four seven chorus of Channel-billed cuckoos and Pacific koels.
Give these yams well composted, freely draining soil in a spot receiving good morning sunshine but shaded from western sun. They accept full, all day sunshine but to keep them happy you will need to accept regular, heavier watering to keep them productive.
Seaweed every week and regular, light sprinklings of poultry manure from summer to the end of March help fatten tubers. I stop watering in mid-April, which helps encourage them towards winter dormancy.
The cue to harvesting tubers in autumn is when the single leaf dies down. This may occur dramatically fast. First time growers often enquire if the plant has suddenly died. It’s (probably) not dead, it’s just resting. Don’t leave them in the soil over winter, they may rot. Lift, brush off and then wash off all soil, and let them throughly dry under cover. I dust any wounds with powdered sulphur.
Happy, two year old tubers can weigh several kilos each. My partner cropped elephant foot yam as a cash crop in Central Vietnam. It thrives around Huế which has a wetter wet season than Cairns and hotter summers too. While these plants enjoy moisture, the tubers can decay in saturated, stagnant soil. They are planted in ridges about 30cm high to help water to drain.
The fibrous stems are prepared and eaten as a vegetable:
* Choose stems that are not too old;
* Cut stems into sections about 15cm long;
* Peel off the skin;
* Chop into sections about 0.5cm long;
* Immerse in salt water for 15 minutes. Rinse in a colander under running water (said to improve flavour and texture);
* Stir-fry with garlic, ginger, chilli, vegetables, and protein: tofu, tempeh, chicken, pork or beef;
Discover Elephant Foot yam recipes here.
Elephant foot yam: a decorative plant with a tasty tuber and an edible stem. A potato in a different wrapper… and with veg too. I love learning something new, don’t you?
Directors, Seed Savers’ Network
Australia’s Seed Savers’ Network was established in 1986 to protect domestic food security and the genetic diversity in crops.
22nd March 2020
4 Comments Add yours
Hi Jerry I’m very interested in this plant. Do you know where I could obtain planting material?
I may sell some at my next open day, but only if I have a surplus. No promises.
If you want to buy a plant, just enter the name in a google search, eg
“Sale Amorphophallus paeoniifolius” yields:
Where I can buy this plants
I sell my surplus at my annual open day during mother’s day weekend which is advertised here and in my public Facebook profile.