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Dioscorea bulbifera (air potato)


  • Last modified
  • 22 June 2017
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Pest
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Dioscorea bulbifera
  • Preferred Common Name
  • air potato
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • D. bulbifera is a monocotyledonous, dioecious, herbaceous perennial vine, which has been described as one of the most aggressive weeds ever introduced into the United States (...

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Air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera); leaves and aerial bulbils.
TitleLeaves and aerial bulbils
CaptionAir potato (Dioscorea bulbifera); leaves and aerial bulbils.
Copyright©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera); leaves and aerial bulbils.
Leaves and aerial bulbilsAir potato (Dioscorea bulbifera); leaves and aerial bulbils.©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Dioscorea bulbifera L., 1753

Preferred Common Name

  • air potato

Other Scientific Names

  • Dioscorea anthropophagorum A. Chev
  • Dioscorea bulbifera var. anthropophagorum (A. Chev.) Summerh.
  • Dioscorea bulbifera var. crispata (Roxb). Prain
  • Dioscorea bulbifera var. elongata (F.M. Bailey) Prain & Burkill
  • Dioscorea bulbifera var. pulchella (Roxb). Prain
  • Dioscorea bulbifera var. sativa Prain
  • Dioscorea crispata Roxb.
  • Dioscorea heterophylla Roxb.
  • Dioscorea hoffa Cordem.
  • Dioscorea hofika Jum. & H. Perrier
  • Dioscorea korrorensis R. Knuth
  • Dioscorea latifolia Benth.
  • Dioscorea longipetiolata Baudon
  • Dioscorea perrieri R. Knuth
  • Dioscorea pulchella Roxb.
  • Dioscorea rogersii Prain & Burkill
  • Dioscorea sativa L.
  • Dioscorea sativa var. domestica Makino
  • Dioscorea sativa var. elongata F.M. Bailey
  • Dioscorea sativa var. rotunda F.M. Bailey
  • Dioscorea sylvestris De Wild
  • Dioscorea tamifolia Salisb.
  • Dioscorea tenuiflora Schltdl.
  • Dioscorea violacea Baudon
  • Helmia bulbifera (L.) Kunth
  • Polynome bulbifera (L.) Salisb.

International Common Names

  • English: aerial yam; air yam; bitter yam; potato yam; yam
  • Portuguese: batata-de-rama; cara-de-aire; cara-de-sapateiro
  • Chinese: huang du
  • French: igname bulbifere; igname massokor; igname pousse en l’air
  • Spanish: ñame; ñame blanco; ñame bobo; ñame cimarrón; ñame Congo; ñame criollo; ñame de monte; ñame del aire; papa caribe; papa del aire; papa voladora

Local Common Names

  • : papa aérea
  • Brazil: cará-de-árvore; cara-de-espinho; cará-do-ar; cará-moela
  • Dominican Republic: bonda; bondanza; bonday; masoco; monday
  • Fiji: kaile; kaile manu; sarau
  • Germany: Knollen- Yam
  • Haiti: bonay; igname massokor; massokop
  • India: hoei-oepas
  • Malaysia: kaachil
  • Puerto Rico: gunda
  • Senegal: danda
  • USA/Hawaii: hoi

EPPO code

  • DIUBU (Dioscorea bulbifera)

Summary of Invasiveness

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D. bulbifera is a monocotyledonous, dioecious, herbaceous perennial vine, which has been described as one of the most aggressive weeds ever introduced into the United States (Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2008). It is a highly invasive plant included in the Global Compendium of Weeds (Randall, 2012), and which creates management problems in many parts of the world. This species reproduces sexually by seeds and vegetatively by underground and aerial tubers (bulbils) which enable it to spread rapidly and colonize entire forests in a single growing season (Hammer, 1998; Langeland et al., 1998). D. bulbifera was extensively introduced to tropical and subtropical regions of the world to be used as a food crop. Plants subsequently escaped from cultivated fields and gardens into natural forests where it has become invasive (ISSG, 2012). This invasive species has the potential to modify and collapse native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structure and altering ecological functions (Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2011). Currently, this species is classified as a “noxious weed” in Alabama and Florida (USDA-NRCS, 2012) and as an invasive species in Cuba, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Pacific Islands including Hawaii, Fiji, French Polynesia, Niue and Palau (Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012; Gonzalez-Torres et al., 2012; PIER, 2012).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Dioscoreales
  •                         Family: Dioscoreaceae
  •                             Genus: Dioscorea
  •                                 Species: Dioscorea bulbifera

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The family Dioscoreaceae includes about 4–6 genera and 870 species. The members of this family are often herbaceous and climber vines. The circumscription of this family still remains controversial. While some authors define this family in a strict context including only the genera Dioscorea, Tamus and Rajania; other authors define this family in a broader context including also the genera Avetra, Trichopus, Stenomeris and Tacca (Raz, 2003). The genus Dioscorea includes about 350–800 species distributed largely in the tropics, but also in warm and temperate regions. Species in this genus are dioecious, twining, and herbaceous to woody vines with single or clustered large tubers some of which are edible and are known as “yams” (Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005).


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Herbaceous, vigorous, twining, vine with non-spiny stems to 20 m or more in length, freely branching above; internodes round or slightly angled in cross section. Leaves are alternate; blades 9-12.5 × 5.5-11 cm, ovate, chartaceous, glabrous, with 9-11 parallel veins, the apex acuminate to caudate, the base cordate, the margins slightly undulate; petioles (4)12-15 cm long, winged and projecting as a pair of pseudo-stipules surrounding the stem at base; bulbils axillary, rounded, 5-6 cm wide. Plants are dioecious; inflorescences are axillary and simple fasciculate. Flowers are white or pinkish tinged, diminutive, and sessile; staminate flowers with perianth approximately 1.2 mm long and 6 fertile stamens; pistillate flowers with perianth approximately 1.4 mm long and a hypanthium approximately 2 mm long. Fruits are capsules 3-winged, 2.5 cm long (Miller, 2003; Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2005).

Plant Type

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Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated
Vine / climber


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The origin of D. bulbifera is uncertain. Some authors believe that this species is native to both Asia and tropical Africa, but others believe that it is a native of Asia and that it was subsequently introduced into Africa (Hammer, 1998). Currently, D. bulbifera is widely naturalized and cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas in America, the West Indies, and Pacific Islands (ISSG, 2012; USDA-ARS, 2012).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes


BangladeshPresentGovaerts, 2012
BhutanPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
CambodiaPresentGovaerts, 2012
-AnhuiPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-ChongqingPresentGovaerts, 2012
-FujianPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-GansuPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-GuangdongPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-GuangxiPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-GuizhouPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-HainanPresentGovaerts, 2012
-HebeiPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-HubeiPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-HunanPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-JiangsuPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-JiangxiPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-NingxiaPresentGovaerts, 2012
-ShaanxiPresentGovaerts, 2012
-ShanxiPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-SichuanPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-TianjinPresentGovaerts, 2012
-TibetPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-YunnanPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-ZhejiangPresentFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
IndiaPresentGovaerts, 2012
-Andaman and Nicobar IslandsPresentGovaerts, 2012
-AssamPresentGovaerts, 2012
-Himachal PradeshPresentGovaerts, 2012
-JavaPresentGovaerts, 2012
-Nusa TenggaraPresentGovaerts, 2012
JapanPresentGovaerts, 2012
Korea, DPRPresentGovaerts, 2012
Korea, Republic ofPresentGovaerts, 2012
LaosPresentGovaerts, 2012
-Peninsular MalaysiaPresentGovaerts, 2012
MyanmarPresentGovaerts, 2012
NepalPresentGovaerts, 2012
PakistanPresentGovaerts, 2012
PhilippinesPresentGovaerts, 2012
Sri LankaPresentGovaerts, 2012
TaiwanPresentGovaerts, 2012
ThailandPresentGovaerts, 2012
VietnamPresentGovaerts, 2012


AngolaPresentGovaerts, 2012
BeninPresentGovaerts, 2012
Burkina FasoPresentGovaerts, 2012
BurundiPresentGovaerts, 2012
CameroonPresentGovaerts, 2012
Central African RepublicPresentGovaerts, 2012
ChadPresentGovaerts, 2012
CongoPresentGovaerts, 2012
Congo Democratic RepublicPresentGovaerts, 2012
Côte d'IvoirePresentGovaerts, 2012
Equatorial GuineaPresentGovaerts, 2012
EritreaPresentGovaerts, 2012
EthiopiaPresentGovaerts, 2012
GabonPresentGovaerts, 2012
GambiaPresentBurkill, 1985
GhanaPresentGovaerts, 2012
GuineaPresentGovaerts, 2012
Guinea-BissauPresentGovaerts, 2012
KenyaPresentGovaerts, 2012
LiberiaPresentGovaerts, 2012
MadagascarPresentGovaerts, 2012
MalawiPresentGovaerts, 2012
MaliPresentGovaerts, 2012
MozambiquePresentGovaerts, 2012
NigeriaPresentGovaerts, 2012
RwandaPresentGovaerts, 2012
SenegalPresentGovaerts, 2012
SeychellesPresentGovaerts, 2012Naturalized
Sierra LeonePresentGovaerts, 2012
SudanPresentGovaerts, 2012
TanzaniaPresentGovaerts, 2012
TogoPresentGovaerts, 2012
UgandaPresentGovaerts, 2012
ZambiaPresentGovaerts, 2012
ZimbabwePresentGovaerts, 2012

North America

MexicoPresentVillaseñor and Espinosa-Garcia, 2004
-AlabamaPresent Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2012Noxious weed
-FloridaPresent Invasive Wunderlin and Hansen, 2008Noxious weed
-HawaiiPresent Invasive Wagner et al., 1999
-LouisianaPresentThomas and Allen, 1993
-TexasPresentHatch et al., 1990

Central America and Caribbean

Antigua and BarbudaPresentBroome et al., 2007
BahamasPresent Invasive Correll and Correll, 1982
BarbadosPresentBroome et al., 2007
BelizePresentGovaerts, 2012
Costa RicaPresentHammel et al., 2003
CubaPresent Invasive González-Torres et al., 2012
Dominican RepublicPresentAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
GuadeloupePresentBroome et al., 2007
GuatemalaPresentDavidse et al., 1994
HaitiPresentAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
HondurasPresentDavidse et al., 1994
JamaicaPresentAdams, 1972
MartiniquePresentBroome et al., 2007
NicaraguaPresentDavidse et al., 1994
PanamaPresentCorrea et al., 2004
Puerto RicoPresentAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Saint Kitts and NevisPresentBroome et al., 2007
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentBroome et al., 2007
Trinidad and TobagoPresentGovaerts, 2012

South America

-AmazonasPresentForzza et al., 2012
-BahiaPresentForzza et al., 2012
-CearaPresentForzza et al., 2012
-Mato Grosso do SulPresentForzza et al., 2012
-PernambucoPresentForzza et al., 2012
-Rio de JaneiroPresentForzza et al., 2012
-Sao PauloPresentForzza et al., 2012
ColombiaPresentIdárraga-Piedrahita et al., 2011
EcuadorPresentGovaerts, 2012
French GuianaPresentFunk et al., 2007
GuyanaPresentGovaerts, 2012
PeruPresentGovaerts, 2012
SurinamePresentFunk et al., 2007
VenezuelaPresentGovaerts, 2012


American SamoaPresentWhistler, 1980
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentGovaerts, 2012
-QueenslandPresentGovaerts, 2012
FijiPresent Invasive Florence et al., 2011
French PolynesiaPresent Invasive Florence et al., 2011
GuamPresentStone, 1970
Marshall IslandsPresentFosberg et al., 1987
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentFosberg et al., 1987
New CaledoniaPresentPIER, 2012
NiuePresent Invasive Space et al., 2004
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentFosberg et al., 1987
PalauPresent Invasive Space et al., 2009
Papua New GuineaPresentGovaerts, 2012
Solomon IslandsPresentPIER, 2012
TongaPresent Invasive Yuncker, 1959
Wallis and Futuna IslandsPresent Invasive Meyer, 2007

History of Introduction and Spread

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The pathway of introduction of D. bulbifera into the Americas is unknown, although Coursey (1967) speculated that it may have been introduced by slave ships arriving from West Africa. It was probably introduced intentionally for its edible tubers (Coursey, 1967). Many varieties of this species have been domesticated and cultivated for human consumption for several millennia in both Asia and Africa (Hammer, 1998; Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2008).

In the United States, the oldest record of this species is from the noted naturalist and botanist William Bartram who reported its presence in a garden in Mobile, Alabama in 1777 (Bartram, 1998). In 1905, it was intentionally introduced to Florida as a USDA sample sent to the horticulturist Henry Nehrling, who found that the species “soon formed impenetrable masses” and adding that except for kudzu vine, he had “never seen a more aggressive and dangerous vine in Florida” (Morton, 1976). For islands in the Pacific (i.e., Hawaii, Fiji and Polynesia), D. bulbifera was probably an intentional aboriginal introduction, and currently it is common to locally abundant in plantations and home gardens (Stone, 1970; Whistler, 1983).

For the West Indies, D. bulbifera was reported on the island of Barbados as a “naturalized plant” by James D. Maycock as early as 1830 (Maycock, 1830). In 1850, it is reported as commonly cultivated in home gardens on the island of Cuba (Sagra, 1850). By 1864, D. bulfibera is described by A.H.R. Grisebach “naturalized and cultivated” in Antigua, and he also reported that this species was introduced from the East Indies (Grisebach, 1864). In Puerto Rico, D. bulbifera is reported in 1883 by Domingo Bello (Bello, 1883), and by 1903, Ignaz Urban reported it growing in natural forests, coffee plantations, and river valleys in different areas of Puerto Rico such as Yabucoa, Sierra de Luquillo, El Yunque, Juncos, Mayaguez, Rincón, and Sierra de Naguabo (Urban, 1905). Ignaz Urban also reported this species for the islands of Jamaica, Hispaniola, St. Thomas, Antigua, Guadeloupe, St. Vincent, Martinique and Tobago (Urban, 1905).

Risk of Introduction

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D. bulbifera is an aggressive invasive plant that is widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Plants produce underground tubers that are edible and serve as food sources for local consumption and/or commercial distribution (Bhandari and Kawabata, 2005). D. bulbifera has escaped from cultivated areas and spreads rapidly into natural forest, climbing into the canopy of mature trees and forming dense stands (Langeland et al., 2008). This species is a fast growing plant that can be dispersed by seed, underground tubers, and bulbils which sprout forming new plants (Hammer, 1998; Morisawa, 1999). In consequence, the probability of invasion of this species, especially in and near areas where it has been introduced for crop production, remains high.


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D. bulbifera can be found growing in moist forests, mesic forests, and hardwood forests (Langeland, 1998; Miller, 2003). It is especially common in disturbed areas, urban forests, forest gaps, forest edges, ruderal areas and along roadsides (Moriwasa, 1999; Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2008; ISGG, 2012; PIER, 2012). In tropical hammocks, D. bulbifera's growth is most concentrated in canopy gaps (Shultz, 1993). It does not inhabit coastal areas due to its salt intolerance, and it is rarely found in pinelands (Morisawa, 1999).

Habitat List

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Cultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Cultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Natural
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Natural
Rail / roadsides Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Present, no further details Natural
Natural forests Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Present, no further details Natural
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Natural
Riverbanks Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Present, no further details Natural
semi-natural/Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
semi-natural/Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Natural

Biology and Ecology

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The diploid chromosome number in this species varies from 36 to 80 depending on the origin of the cultivar analysed (Baquar, 1980). 

Reproductive Biology

D. bulbifera is a dioecious species, with male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers occurring on separate plants. Flowers are small, white to greenish and they are arranged in relatively long clusters (panicles and spikes) up to 4 inches long (Wagner et al., 1999; Miller, 2003). Flowers produce a pleasant fragrance and are visited by bees, wasps, and nocturnal insects (Hammer, 1998). Within its native range, this species reproduces sexually by seed, and vegetatively through the production of bulbils and underground tubers (Miller, 2003). However, in many locations where this species has been introduced, sexual reproduction appears to be absent or extremely rare, and all or nearly all reproduction is through bulbils. 

Physiology and Phenology

In North America, D. bulbifera produces both male and female flowers during the summer months, but not every year, and fruits are produced from June to October (Hammer, 1998; Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2008). In South and West Africa, plants produce flowers from February to March and the fruiting season begins in March (Wilkin, 2001). On islands in the Pacific, such as Hawaii and Polynesia, plants produce flowers during summer and fruits are produced from August to October and year-round (Wagner et al., 1999). 

D. bulbifera follows a repeated annual cycle of growth and dormancy that corresponds to the rainy and dry seasons within its native range (Coursey, 1967). Outside its native range, this species has a winter dormant period when the stems die back to the ground. After dormancy, the underground tubers give rise to stems which quickly grow, often reaching up to 20 metres long by the end of the growing season (Wagner et al., 1999). Bulbils can also last a year or more on the ground waiting for suitable environmental conditions to sprout. It has been suggested that bulbils require a chilling period before they sprout (Okagami and Tanno, 1991).        

Environmental Requirements

D. bulbifera prefers to grow in areas with high temperatures (around 25-35°C), high humidity and high precipitation (>1000 mm annual rainfall), at low to middle elevations. This species grows best in a loamy soil that has good drainage and is preferably high in organic material (Martin, 1974; Wilkin, 2001). D. bulbifera is adapted to partially to fully shaded conditions, but it does not tolerate salty or frosty conditions and plant vigour is affected at temperatures below 20°C (Morisawa, 1999; Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2008). It is more tolerant to low temperatures during dormancy. As with many species within the genus Dioscorea, D. bulbifera does not support its own weight to any great height and in order to capture sunlight, this species has evolved to climb by twining on other plants (Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2008).


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Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) -10
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 35
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) -5


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall8003000mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

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Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free
  • seasonally waterlogged

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • infertile
  • shallow

Notes on Natural Enemies

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In West Africa, the pests affecting D. bulbifera include the beetle species Heteroligus meles and Prionoryctes cuniculus [Prionoryctes capreolus] (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae); the scale species Aspidiella hartii (Homoptera: Diaspidadae); two leaf beetles Lilioceris livida and Lema armata (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae); and the yam weevil Palaeopus dioscoreae (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) (Pursglove, 1972; Ekanayake and Asiedu, 2003). In Asia, the beetle species Lilioceris impressa (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) has been reported from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Burma, Sri Lanka and throughout Southeast Asia and China (Yu, 1993; Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2008).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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D. bulbifera spreads by seeds, underground tubers, and bulbils. Seeds are dispersed by wind. The underground tubers and bulbils sprout in the spring (i.e., March in the northern hemisphere) or with the first rains of the rainy season (Morisawa, 1999). This species uses the dead stems from the previous year as a “trellis” to climb into the forest canopy looking for sunlight (Langeland et al., 1998; Miller, 2003). Bulbils are from the leaf axils until the plant matures, and they can last a year or more on the ground waiting for suitable environmental conditions to sprout. Sprouting can also occur without soil contact. Bulbils can float in water, suggesting that flood-waters may be a form of dispersal for this species (Hammer, 1998).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Crop productionEdible underground tubers (yams) Yes Yes ISSG, 2012
Escape from confinement or garden escapeEscaped from cultivated areas Yes Yes ISSG, 2012
Intentional releaseIntentional introduction for cultivation (crop production) Yes Yes Hammer, 1998
Medicinal useCultivated to manufacture steroidal hormones Yes Yes Hammer, 1998

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
ConsumablesEdible underground tubers Yes Yes ISSG, 2012
Debris and waste associated with human activitiesTubers and bulbils Yes Yes ISSG, 2012
Floating vegetation and debrisBulbils Yes Yes Schultz, 1993
Plants or parts of plantsTubers and bulbils Yes Yes ISSG, 2012
WindSeeds Yes Yes Wagner et al., 1999

Impact Summary

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Economic/livelihood Negative
Environment (generally) Negative

Environmental Impact

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D. bulbifera is an aggressive invasive that grows as rapidly as 20 cm per day (Moriwasa, 1999). This fast growing plant forms dense colonies that engulf native vegetation, climbing high into mature tree canopies and shading-out trees and shrubs in the understory (Langeland et al., 1998; Moriwasa, 1999; Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2008) This species has the potential to completely out-compete vegetation communities by displacing native species, changing community structures and altering ecological functions (Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, 2008; 2011).

Risk and Impact Factors

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Impact mechanisms

  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Competition - smothering
  • Competition - strangling
  • Poisoning
  • Rapid growth
  • Rooting

Impact outcomes

  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Host damage
  • Infrastructure damage
  • Loss of medicinal resources
  • Monoculture formation
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
  • Transportation disruption


  • Abundant in its native range
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Fast growing
  • Has a broad native range
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Reproduces asexually
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc

Likelihood of entry/control

  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately


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Although some wild varieties of D. bulbifera can be poisonous, many varieties of this species are cultivated for human consumption in tropical and subtropical countries in Asia, Africa and America where their edible tubers are an important human food source. Dioscorea species or “yams” are economically important world-wide as a food crop (Hammer, 1998). In addition, several varieties of D. bulbifera contain the steroid, diosgenin, which is the principal material used in the production of a number of synthetic steroidal hormones, such as those used in the manufacture of birth-control pills (Oboh et al., 2001; ISSG, 2012). D. bulfibera has been also used in traditional medicine in Asia, Africa and Latin America to treat diarrhoea, dysentery, conjunctivitis, fatigue and depression among other ailments (Vazquez, 1990; ISSG, 2012).

Uses List

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  • Agroforestry


  • Botanical garden/zoo

Human food and beverage

  • Root crop
  • Vegetable


  • Poisonous to mammals

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
  • Traditional/folklore

Prevention and Control

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Mechanical Control

Mechanical removal of D. bulbifera is effective, but is labour intensive. All bulbils and tubers should be removed to prevent spread into new areas. Sprouting vines can be repeatedly pulled to deplete the food reserves of germinated "potatoes." Dense stands should be removed using specialized machinery. 

Chemical Control

Chemical control of D. bulbifera should include mechanical cutting followed by application of one of the following herbicides to the cut stems:

  • N-phosphonomethyl-glycine (glyphosate)
  • 3,5,6-trichloro-2-pyridinyloxyacetic acid (triclopyr)

Follow-up treatments are recommended at 6-month intervals until control is completed.


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Acevedo-Rodríguez P; Strong MT, 2005. Monocots and Gymnosperms of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Contributions from the United States National Herbarium, volume 52:415 pp.

Acevedo-Rodríguez P; Strong MT, 2012. Catalogue of the Seed Plants of the West Indies. Smithsonian Contributions to Botany, 98:1192 pp. Washington DC, USA: Smithsonian Institution.

Adams CD, 1972. Flowering Plants of Jamaica. University of the West Indies, 267.

Baquar SR, 1980. Chromosome behaviour in Nigerian yams (Dioscorea). Genetica, 54:1-9.

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01/03/13 Original text by:

Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

Pedro Acevedo-Rodríguez, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

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