Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Elephant's Foot, Dioscorea elephantipes

Image: alijava
Dioscorea elephantipes
Yikes! If that's an elephant's foot, I have just one word to say: moisturise.

The Elephant's Foot is a big, bulky, brute of a plant. But it's not without a soft side.

Image: MeganEHansen
They come from South Africa, in dry, rocky areas where the summers are arid and the winters not much better. It's so bad that Elephant's Foots (Elephant's Feet? How does this work?) are dormant in the summer and grow in the winter.

Image: billy liar
They stand with their giant tuber half buried in the parched earth. This tuber grows very slowly, but after some years it can reach almost a metre (3.3 feet) tall, with a circumference of more than 3 metres (10 feet). And it's all covered in thick plates of cork.

They clearly have something to hide. Perhaps they went through a difficult separation from all the other elephant's feet and now they don't want anyone to see their soft, vulnerable inside.


You can eat an Elephant's Foot if you want, but it's only for the desperate due to the amount of work required to get rid of all the toxins in the flesh. It's also full of chemical compounds known as saponins, from which steroids can be made.

For a while people were hunting down these plants to get at those delicious seponins, but then easier, cheaper ways of making the stuff emerged. The Elephant's Foot could then return to it's proper place of being annoying and not worth the trouble.

Image: mizmak
But the Elephant's Foot is more than a just a massive potato on steroids...

Image: JasonUnbound
From the top of that clunking tuber sprout numerous stems and heart-shaped leaves. The Elephant's Foot is a climber, like ivy. It would probably be annoying and not worth the trouble, but you could try and use it to cover the walls of your top quality, fancy-dan university. You have to have something, right? Universities with clean walls always look like they could collapse at any moment.

Image: scott.zona
There are also dainty, little flowers. Each Elephant's Foot is either male or female, with purely male or female flowers.

Image: FarOutFlora
The Elephant's Foot is popular among horticulturists who want a weird looking plant. If you look after it and allow it to go dormant every year by withholding water, it could live for a good 70 years or so. 70 years of pointing at your weird and increasingly massive plant. That's totally worth it! And not too annoying, either.

3 comments:

Ishrat Hussain Mohammad said...

This Elephant foot plant is really very interesting, how the nature has produced such a servival kits with these types of lives.

TexWisGirl said...

really quite beautiful!

Joseph Jameson-Gould said...

@Ishrat Hussain Mohammad: Yes! It's amazing to see the methods life uses to survive such inhospitable habitats.

@TexWisGirl: I think it could make for a nice pattern in a rustic patio!

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