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Dioscorea bulbifera (air potato)


  • Last modified
  • 03 January 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • 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
  • 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
  • French: igname bulbifere; igname massokor; igname pousse en l’air
  • Chinese: huang du
  • Portuguese: batata-de-rama; cara-de-aire; cara-de-sapateiro

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

Top of page Herbaceous
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


BangladeshPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
BhutanPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
CambodiaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
ChinaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AnhuiPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-ChongqingPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
-FujianPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-GansuPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-GuangdongPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-GuangxiPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-GuizhouPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-HainanPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
-HebeiPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-HubeiPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-HunanPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-JiangsuPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-JiangxiPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-NingxiaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
-ShaanxiPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
-ShanxiPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-SichuanPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-TianjinPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
-TibetPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-YunnanPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
-ZhejiangPresentNativeFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012
IndiaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
-Andaman and Nicobar IslandsPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
-AssamPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
-Himachal PradeshPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
IndonesiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-JavaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
-Nusa TenggaraPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
JapanPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
Korea, DPRPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
Korea, Republic ofPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
LaosPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
MalaysiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Peninsular MalaysiaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
MyanmarPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
NepalPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
PakistanPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
PhilippinesPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
Sri LankaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
TaiwanPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
ThailandPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
VietnamPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012


AngolaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
BeninPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
Burkina FasoPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
BurundiPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
CameroonPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
Central African RepublicPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
ChadPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
CongoPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
Congo Democratic RepublicPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
Côte d'IvoirePresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
Equatorial GuineaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
EritreaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
EthiopiaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
GabonPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
GambiaPresentNativeBurkill, 1985
GhanaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
GuineaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
Guinea-BissauPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
KenyaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
LiberiaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
MadagascarPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
MalawiPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
MaliPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
MozambiquePresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
NigeriaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
RwandaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
SenegalPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
SeychellesPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2012Naturalized
Sierra LeonePresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
SudanPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
TanzaniaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
TogoPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
UgandaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
ZambiaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
ZimbabwePresentNativeGovaerts, 2012

North America

MexicoPresentIntroducedVillaseñor and Espinosa-Garcia, 2004
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AlabamaPresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-NRCS, 2012Noxious weed
-FloridaPresentIntroduced Invasive Wunderlin and Hansen, 2008Noxious weed
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced Invasive Wagner et al., 1999
-LouisianaPresentIntroducedThomas and Allen, 1993
-TexasPresentIntroducedHatch et al., 1990

Central America and Caribbean

Antigua and BarbudaPresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
BahamasPresentIntroduced Invasive Correll and Correll, 1982
BarbadosPresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
BelizePresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2012
Costa RicaPresentIntroducedHammel et al., 2003
CubaPresentIntroduced Invasive González-Torres et al., 2012
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
GuadeloupePresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
GuatemalaPresentIntroducedDavidse et al., 1994
HaitiPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
HondurasPresentIntroducedDavidse et al., 1994
JamaicaPresentIntroducedAdams, 1972
MartiniquePresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
NicaraguaPresentIntroducedDavidse et al., 1994
PanamaPresentIntroducedCorrea et al., 2004
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Saint Kitts and NevisPresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
Trinidad and TobagoPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2012

South America

BrazilPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AmazonasPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
-BahiaPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
-CearaPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
-Mato Grosso do SulPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
-PernambucoPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
-Rio de JaneiroPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
-Sao PauloPresentIntroducedForzza et al., 2012
ColombiaPresentIntroducedIdárraga-Piedrahita et al., 2011
EcuadorPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2012
French GuianaPresentIntroducedFunk et al., 2007
GuyanaPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2012
PeruPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2012
SurinamePresentIntroducedFunk et al., 2007
VenezuelaPresentIntroducedGovaerts, 2012


American SamoaPresentIntroducedWhistler, 1980
AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
-QueenslandPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
FijiPresentIntroduced Invasive Florence et al., 2011
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Florence et al., 2011
GuamPresentNativeStone, 1970
Marshall IslandsPresentNativeFosberg et al., 1987
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentNativeFosberg et al., 1987
New CaledoniaPresentNativePIER, 2012
NiuePresentIntroduced Invasive Space et al., 2004
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentNativeFosberg et al., 1987
PalauPresentIntroduced Invasive Space et al., 2009
Papua New GuineaPresentNativeGovaerts, 2012
Solomon IslandsPresentNativePIER, 2012
TongaPresentIntroduced Invasive Yuncker, 1959
Wallis and Futuna IslandsPresentIntroduced 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
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
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

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
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
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Competition - smothering
  • Competition - strangling
  • Poisoning
  • Rapid growth
  • Rooting
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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Links to Websites

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Angiosperm Phylogeny Website
Flora of the West Indies
Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council
Global Invasive Species Database
Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk


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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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