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Aridland Plant Fine in Dunedin

This article was first published on 03 Jul 2020.

Dioscorea elephantipes

Dioscorea elephantipes

Photo by the Otago Daily Times

Dioscorea elephantipes is a fairly weird and whacky plant.  Slow growing, it forms a tuberous succulent stem with hard, cork-like plates covering it, called caudex.  They resemble an elephant’s foot, hence the species name “elephantipes”.

Native to the inland arid areas of South Africa’s cape, Dioscorea elephantipes grows in extreme environments where the summer temperatures can get as hot as 40 degrees, so is summer dormant.  It puts on new growth in autumn and then as the temperature begin to get hot, drops its leaves in late spring.

As long as you follow its natural life cycle Dioscorea elephantipes is fairly easy to cultivate.  Water when new growth develops and then hold off watering in summer when it enters its dormancy as it needs a rest period.

Make sure you have a good free-draining soil mix with plenty of gravel for drainage as it grows on rocky outcrops.

It can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and handle short drops in temperature as low as -4 degrees.  Keep it in a lightly shaded position to protect the tuber or caudex but the green tendrils will thrive in full sun.