Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Air Potatoes

The air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) is also known as an air yam and Puerto Rican potato. It is a member of the yam family and native to Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Air potatoes can be found throughout the States of Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Hawaii and in Puerto Rico.

It is a vigorously twining, herbaceous vine often growing to 60 or 70ft. in length.  The plant produces underground tubers as well as aerial tubers called ‘bulbils’ which form in the leaf axis.  These bulbils are smooth or warty and range in color from a light tan to a dark coffee color.

In many parts of the world the tubers and bulbils of D. bulbifera are used as food, and the plant is cultivated as an agricultural crop. In Hawaii they are eaten steamed or boiled.  They have been reported as being poisonous when raw but may be eaten after peeled and cooked.  In Florida it is reported that uncultivated forms are bitter and even poisonous.  They consider these plants to be toxic and should not be consumed. 

In Florida it is listed as a Category I invasive exotic plant. This means that it is currently altering native plant communities by displacing native species and changing community structures.