Odd plant likes it hot, cold

Dioscorea elephantipes. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Dioscorea elephantipes. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
It is a fairly weird and wacky plant, the Dioscorea elephantipes.

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 40degC, so is dormant in summer. It puts on new growth in autumn and then as the temperature begins 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 minus 4degC. Keep it in a lightly shaded position to protect the tuber or caudex but the green tendrils will thrive in full sun.

 - Garden Life is produced by the Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information contact Stephen Bishop.


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