Dioscorea elephantipes The Elephant-Foot Caudex Care & Culture

In Houseplants & Tropicals
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Species Name: Dioscorea elephantipes

Origin: South Africa

General Care & Information about Growing Dioscorea elephantipes

I live up in Canada and have found the active growth period to be from January/February thru until about mid July. This year (2017) it started its growth about the beginning of October. I try to leave it in dormancy for about half the year but I’ll still water every week or two; when I water in non-growth periods, I’ll reduce to more of a sprinkle than a soaking (late summer and fall). When I see signs of growth (a spike starting out of the top of the caudex) I’ll increase watering to a full soil soak once per week. I use a substrate that is about 50% rock/grit/sand/pumice/etc to 20% peat, 20% bark, and 10% worm castings. I’ll cut off old growths once they die back to the bulb.

I started this plant from seed about 5 years ago; the other siblings died off due to neglect over the years, but this one had a succulent growing in the top soil so I had a reminder to always water whenever the succulent started to shrivel. Now my watering practice is a little better and I’ve removed the buddy plant for aesthetics. During the first 3 years, I left the bulb completely under the substrate, then I unearthed it a bit to see how it was doing. This year, I re-oriented the plant so the bulb is nicely centered at the top, in the middle of the pot.

Dioscorea elephantipes according to Botanic Wonders

2017 Oct 15 – New growth spiked (repotted)
Dioscorea elephantipes - Elephant Foot Caudex
Dioscorea elephantipes – Elephant Foot Caudex

Repotting Dioscorea elephantipes

Growing Dioscorea elephantipes from Seed (My Experience)

I started my plant (the one photographed in this post) from seed. It’s about the size of a pop can diameter now (2017). You grow seedlings the same way as mentioned above and in the video, but keep it the soil consistently moist during the first growing season (water 1-2x/week with a soil that is very open and drains easily). To germinate the seeds, place them on the substrate and cover the top of the container with a lid or saran-wrap. Punch a couple holes for a bit of air movement and keep the substrate moist while the plants germinate. Once the seedlings sprout and put out a leaf, slowly increase air holes so that the humidity drops over the course of a week or two. During the first 3-4 weeks water regularly, probably 2x/week. You don’t want the seedlings getting stressed as they are throwing out their first set of roots and leaves–if it dries out too much in this first period you’ll risk killing the plant. I’d also recommend leaving the seedling caudex under the soil for the first year or two so it can get some size and manage drought a little better.