Evolution and Systematics
The desert Hottentot bread plant stores vast amounts of water in a large, underground corky tuber.
"Swollen roots are used by a great number of plants as storage tanks. Beneath the sand, they are out of sight and not easily found by thirsty animals living on the surface. Hottentot bread is the name given to a yam that develops an immense underground tuber that may weigh as much as seven hundred pounds and fully justifies its specific name of elephantipes -- elephant foot. Every desert -- in Australia and South America, in the Sahara, the Gobi and Madagascar -- has such plants. And in every one, an ability to recognise the leaf of a tiny sprig standing unobtrusively in the sand as an indication of a buried water store was once the traditional life-saving knowledge of nomadic people." (Attenborough 1995:269)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Dioscorea elephantipes
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Dioscorea elephantipes
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
Dioscorea elephantipes (elephant's foot or Hottentot bread; syn. Testudinaria elephantipes), is a species of flowering plant in the genus Dioscorea of the family Dioscoreaceae, native to south west South Africa, but also rediscovered in Northern Cape Province by an expedition collecting seeds for the Millenium Seed Bank Project. It is a deciduous climber. It takes the name "elephant's foot" from the appearance of its large, partially buried, tuberous stem, which grows very slowly but often reaches a considerable size, often more than 3 m (10 ft) in circumference with a height of nearly 1 m (3 ft 3 in) above ground. It is rich in starch, whence the name Hottentot bread, and is covered on the outside with thick, hard, corky plates. It requires significant processing before being eaten to remove toxic compounds. Primarily a winter grower, it develops slender, leafy, climbing shoots with dark-spotted, greenish-yellow flowers in winter (May or June in habitat) The flowers are dioecious, with male or female flowers occurring on separate plants.
In cultivation in temperate areas, D. elephantipes can tolerate temperatures to -4°C in habitat. It was granted the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit in 2002.
The large tuberous stem of Dioscorea elephantipes at the botanical garden of Villa Durazzo-Pallavicini, Genova Pegli.
- "Dioscorea elephantipes (L'Her.) Engl.". April 2005.
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