Anyone here growing edible Air Potatoes? (Dioscorea bulbifera)

Hi all. I posted this query on another forum a long time ago, so I figured I’d post it here too, to see if I’d find more people.

I’m growing two edible strains of air potato, and am looking for as many varieties as I can. My experiences have so far been positive, and the invasive potential for these domestic strains has been minimal (and I have kept a sharp eye out for any volunteers). I also have other Dioscoreas (including several bulbil-bearing types), but I’m keeping the name “Air Potato” to D. bulbifera.

Plant Assassin on YouTube grew a purple bulbifera (not an Ube, which he also grew), but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. I’m hoping he can point me in the right direction to obtain it.

Is anyone here growing edible air potato?


Some pictures of my own vines:


I’ve got a variety of Dioscorea that returns for me year after year in Michigan. My “potatoes” only get to be dime sized, and I imagine the underground part is quite developed after 5+ years.

Easy plant. Climbs well and the stems become quite wiry after a few years.



From GRIN Taxonomy:

Common names:

  • aerial yam (Source: [F Ceylon](javascript: F Ceylon)) - English
  • air-potato (Source: [World Econ Pl](javascript: World Econ Pl)) - English
  • bitter yam (Source: [F Hawaii](javascript: F Hawaii)) - English
  • cheeky yam (Source: [Econ Pl Aust](javascript: Econ Pl Aust)) - English
  • potato yam (Source: [Dict Rehm](javascript: Dict Rehm)) - English
  • igname bulbifère (Source: [Pl Res SEAs](javascript: Pl Res SEAs)) - French
  • pousse en l’air (Source: [Dict Rehm](javascript: Dict Rehm)) - French
  • Brotwurzel (Source: [Zander ed17](javascript: Zander ed17)) - German
  • Yamswurzel (Source: [Zander ed17](javascript: Zander ed17)) - German
  • hoi (Source: [F Hawaii](javascript: F Hawaii)) - Hawaiian
  • hoei-oepas (Source: [Names Watson](javascript: Names Watson)) - India
  • inhame (Source: [pers. comm.](javascript: pers. comm.)) - Portuguese (Brazil)
  • ñame de gunda (Source: [Dict Rehm](javascript: Dict Rehm)) - Spanish
  • papa voladora (Source: [F Mesoamer](javascript: F Mesoamer)) - Spanish
  • potatisjams (Source: [Kulturvaxtdatabas](javascript: Kulturvaxtdatabas)) - Swedish

Economic Importance:

  • Environmental: ornamental
  • Human food:
  • Medicines:
  • Vertebrate poisons: mammals (fide Kew Bull 56:380. 2001)
  • Weed: potential seed contaminant

Distributional Range:



  • EAST TROPICAL AFRICA: Tanzania, Uganda
  • WEST TROPICAL AFRICA: Burkina Faso, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone
  • WESTERN INDIAN OCEAN: Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion


  • CHINA: China (e. & s.)


  • INDIAN SUBCONTINENT: India, Nepal, Sri Lanka
  • PAPUASIA: Papua New Guinea
  • INDO-CHINA: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam
  • MALESIA: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines


  • AUSTRALIA: Australia [Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia (n.)]

Cultivated (also cult.)


have to ask, you have dioscorea too?! But then again, i shouldn’t be surprised anymore and should get used to it(that you are an ultra-out-of-zone hoarder of tropical exotica)

anyway, if you should finally decide to dig it up, those bulbs are yummy( or should i say yammy). Takes a long time to cook, but worth your while. Most folks in the tropics prefer them mashed into a paste, but i like it semi-crushed, as the flesh retains its chewy and nutty texture/flavor profile which find so tasty.

forgot to add, if you’ve been growing yours in a sizeable tub for several years, you might have a monster yam there already. The ugliest of so-called root crops happen to be one of the best-tasting, and can feed a village!


those photos sure bring back fond memories of our garden in the isles, thank you!


Sounds like Chinese Yam (D. polystachya). I’m growing that one too, but I’ve had a few mishaps that have prevented me from growing a strong mature vine. I’m hoping for good growth this year.

Like other bulbil-bearers, peak production starts at the 2 year. Get enough of those little bulbils and you can boil 'em and eat 'em skin-and-all, like little potatoes. I’ve also heard that the tuber of this species makes for an excellent fluffy baked “potato”.


Thanks for the info! That’s a very broad range for this species, and a lot of names to go with it. I’m surprised GRIN didn’t mention edibility. Though rare, edible types are better known than toxic types outside the US.

The USDA used to have a collection of them, but then got rid of them, though not before compiling a document:


I’m actually the odd one in the family for liking them mashed (better than potatoes in my book). My folks boil them with salted cod for flavor, then eat them in chunks, drizzled with olive oil, served with the cod and with fried ham.

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Excluding synonyms, there are 110 verified species of Dioscorea as of 2006:

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i agree, it is better. It is also more versatile, as it can be cooked like potatoes as main course, but also taste pretty good sweetened as dessert


yams – here’s a humongous ugly, but delicious!

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Most of those are toxic. There’s about 20 edible species, give-or-take a few (depending on classification), and I’m trying to collect them. So far, I have these actively growing:

D. rotundata, D. cayennensis, D. alata (white and purple forms), D. bulbifera (Asian and African forms), D. trifida, and D. polystachya.

I’m also waiting on the mail for D. pentaphylla and D. dodecaneura (aka. D. discolor).

Next I’ll be looking for D. esculenta (which should be available in my local Ag. Research station), D. transversa, D. nummularia, D. dumetorum, D. japonica, D. hamiltonii and D. pseudo-tomentosa.

We have the closely related Rajania cordata growing in the mountains, but they carry viruses, so unless I can get a clean one, I won’t be growing it (at any rate, the domestic yams are more highly regarded).


That thing is huge! All that from one vine?! I wonder how many years it took to grow. I think alata is like bulbifera, the tuber gets bigger yearly. Most of the others shrink the previous tuber to make a new one.


i see you’re in zone 13, but really curious, where exactly are you growing yams?
and yes, quite amazing those humongous alata’s and bulbifera’s! From what i could eke out of the pic it might be two vines with their tubers entangled, but nonetheless impressive. Actually makes my mouth water just looking at it, haha

below is my ipomoea – glamorized name for faux yam(sweet potato). It has perennated twice over two winters, growing on a round concrete vase ~2 ft across and just ~6" deep. The protruding tuber i photoshopped with dos ekis. Tempted to dig up and roast for thanksgiving, but figured it has earned its keep for having survived our freeze-dried winters. My version of presidential pardon, haha

it is my version of ‘air potato’ since have been growing it on a pedestal :smile:


The only zone 13 areas listed in the U.S. are Puerto Rico and Hawaii.

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That’s an impressive-looking yam. What species of Ipomoea is it?

I gotta get my hand on a few cultivars of sweet potato to fill the back hillside and suppress the weeds. I’m also hoping to get seeds for Ipomoea costata.

I live in Puerto Rico. Most of the yams here start their growth in the first half of the year and dry up between December and January. Not sure if that’s standard everywhere they grow. The Chinese Yam only started growing again recently, so I’ve no idea when it’ll dry up, if at all. The Ube and African Air Potato also got a late start.


just a regular grocery-store batatas with deep orange flesh. I wish it was something unique. Only reason i grow it on a pedestal is to avoid being fouled by neighborhood cats, since i enjoy the greens as a vegie
btw, nice to hear someone from PR sharing knowledge to this forum. Was curious about your air potato–does it produce below-ground tubers as well?
i used to grow semi-purple ube a long time ago, which produced both aerial and underground yams, but not sure what species it was. I don’t think it was bulbifera, as the quality was just like a typical ube. Must be another edible dioscorea species or alata subspecies native to or introduced to the philippines from nearby islands.


If it’s for the greens, it’s best left unharvested in this case. I might be mistaken, but I’ve heard tell that sweet potatoes left growing for too long turn fibrous and aren’t as tasty.

The Indian Air Potato shown here does have a tuber, and it’s slightly tastier than the bulbils by a barely perceptible margin. I won’t be harvesting them though; bulbil-grown vines mostly produce small bulbils in their first year. They don’t start bearing large bulbils consistently until their second year. Leaving the tuber intact allows for a mature mother vine with big bulbils. Not sure if the African type I’m growing has a tuber as that’s not a universal feature in the species, but I suspect that it does. I’ll find out once the vines die back.

Ube is alata. Most alatas produce bulbils, though they’re not considered as prolific as bulbiferas. I’ve actually been meaning to put that to the test, since alatas usually have their tubers harvested, so they’re not given a chance to grow into a mother vine. Maybe a well-maintained mother vine could be a prolific bulbil producer. I have 4 alatas growing, the standard Florido type, a random Asian type sold to me as a bulbifera by rarepalmseeds (the anatomy revealed that as incorrect), a feral one growing wild in my hillside, and a deep purple Ube (got it off eBay as "Dark Night St. Vincent). If it’s got wings, twines like a “Z” and (usually) paired leaves, it’s alata. If it’s got a round stem that twines like an “S” and alternate leaves, it’s a bulbifera.

you’re right, the bigger and older sweet 'tatoes are generally more fibrous. As for the greens, we love them cooked over steamed rice, as well as used as green vegie for tamarind broth and other dishes. Our tortoises love them too.

keep us posted, we’re curious! While growing fruits is truly rewarding, there’s just something so primal about digging up mother earth to get to unseen treasures…

that’s what i suspected. Our supposedly alata vines literally produced bulbils as the stems crept up an adobe wall which had plenty moist crevices, filling them up with yams. I should have taken a picture and regret not having done so, as still curious as to what group of dioscorea it was.

yam expert, you are :wink:

i grew both back in the day, but didn’t pay enough attention to the bulbil-forming yam that had the excellent qualities of ube.
below is the cold-hardy sweet 'tato have deemed worthy being placed on a pedestal :slight_smile:
As reference to cold-hardiness, our jujube branches in the background have already dropped most their leaves, even the bermuda grass has browned, but this faux yam cultivar quite steadfast in resisting chlorosis.

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I need more info on tamarind broth. Please.

it is southeast asian cuisine i grew up eating while living in the philippine isles.

literally peasant’s fare(usually just vegies, taro, and if available-- bits and pieces of fish/shrimp, or pork/beef)which i find delicious with steamed brown rice. It is getting some recognition internationally, especially those who have a sour tooth :slight_smile: