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This is a herbaceous vine about 5-30' long that branches occasionally. Its slender stems have the capacity to twine around adjacent vegetation and fences, climbing upward and outward. The glabrous stems are light green, pale yellow, reddish green, or dark red. The stems are usually terete; less often, they are bluntly angular or narrowly ridged. Whorled and/or opposite leaves sometimes occur near the base of the vine, otherwise the leaves are alternate. At maturity, individual leaf blades are 2-4" long and 1½-3" across; they are narrowly cordate to cordate, smooth along their margins, and palmately veined (7-11 veins per leaf). The upper blade surface is medium green and glabrous, while the lower surface is pale green and sparsely short-pubescent (less often, glabrous or densely short-pubescent). Very young leaf blades are golden green in appearance. The slender petioles are 1½-6" long, light green to dark red, and glabrous or nearly so; sometimes there are tufts of hair where the petioles join the leaf blades. The leaf blades tend to hang downward from their petioles. Wild Yam is dioecious, producing vines with either all male flowers or all female flowers. On male vines, panicles of numerous male flowers about 4-12" long develop from the leaf axils. Male flowers are arranged in small clusters of 1-3 along the branches of each panicle. Individual male flowers are about 1/8" across, consisting of 6 whitish green or yellowish green tepals and 6 fertile stamens. On female vines, racemes of 5-15 female flowers about 3-9" long develop from the leaf axils. Individual female flowers are about 1/8" across and 1/3" long, consisting of 6 whitish green or yellowish green tepals and a large inferior ovary with 6 infertile stamens. The blooming period occurs during early summer. The female flowers are replaced by 3-celled seed capsules that are ovoid in shape and about 1" long; these capsules are strongly 3-angled and become golden green as they mature. Each cell of the capsule usually contains 2 seeds (less often, only 1). The flattened seeds have broad membranous wings; they are distributed by the wind. The root system is rhizomatous.


Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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