Elephant Foot Yam: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Elephant foot yam

Elephant foot yam

In 2013, Annette McFarlane gave me a young Elephant Yam, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius. This tropical, forest-dwelling, 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. 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. And I’ve learned something new from my partner: its stems make a tasty meal.

Elephant foot yam, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius.
Elephant foot yam, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius.

In 2013, Annette McFarlane gave me a young Elephant Yam, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius. This tropical, forest-dwelling, 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. 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. And I’ve learned something new from my partner: its stems make a tasty meal.

Elephant foot yamFirst 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.
Life in general bustles noisily – frogs, owls, cicadas, and geckos add their voices to the twenty four seven chorus of Channel-billed cuckoos and Pacific koels.

2.01m wide Elephant foot yam, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius
2.01m wide Elephant foot yam, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius

Give these yams well composted, freely draining soil in a spot receiving good morning sunshine but shaded from western sun. The sunnier and breezier the spot, the more you will need to water.

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. Which may occur dramatically fast.  First time growers often enquire if the plant had suddenly died. But it’s not dead, it’s just resting. Lift, brush off and then wash off all soil, and let them throughly dry under cover. I dust any wounds with powdered sulphur.

Elephant foot yam, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius, in Hue.
Elephant foot yam, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius, in Hue.

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 Hue 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.

Elephant foot yam, Hue-style.
Elephant foot yam stem, Hue-style.

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 pieces about 0.5cm long;
* Immerse in salt water for 15 minutes (this is said to make it tasty and crunchy);
* Stir-fry with garlic, ginger, chilli, vegetables, and protein: soy, 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?

Elephant foot yam is not propagated by seed. But this manual is your vital guide to saving and maintaining the vigour of over 100 varieties of crop. Order on line.
Elephant foot yam is not propagated by seed. But this manual is your vital guide to saving and maintaining the vigour of over 100 varieties of crop. Order on line.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
Directors, Seed Savers’ Network
Established in 1986 to protect domestic food security and diversity.
22nd March 2020

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Lyn Buffett says:

    Hi Jerry I’m very interested in this plant. Do you know where I could obtain planting material?

    1. Jeff Poole says:

      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:

      http://www.nurseriesonline.com.au/PAGES/Amorphophallus.html

      Jerry

  2. Renuka chandrasena says:

    Where I can buy this plants

    1. Jeff Poole says:

      I sell my surplus at my annual open day during mother’s day weekend which is advertised here and in my public Facebook profile.

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