Dioscorea elephantipes Origin and Habitat: Cape of Good Hope, Southern Africa ( including the Clanwilliam District of the Western Cape and the Graaf-Reinet, Willowmore and Uniondale Districts of the Eastern Cape).
Habitat and ecology: This species is appears to have a wide tolerance of growing habitats, growing in weathered rock, on dry, stony slopes, under the protection of karroid bushes. Pollination is done by bees and bumble bees. The plant is adapted to growing in areas with seasonal rainfall, by going dormant in the dry season. In its natural environment it rests during the hot dry summer. Dioscorea elephantipes grows in the winter and the spring months. The above ground caudex is protected by elephantine bark while it rests. It is used to extreme heat (above 40°C), but it can also take low temperatures (-4°C).
Dioscorea elephantipes Cultivation and Propagation: This plant responds well to cultivation and makes an easy and wonderfully unusual houseplant. Plants even five to ten years old are extremely nice. Vigorous, annual climbing stems can grow to as much as 2 metres in a season, however these can be trained quite comfortably around a wire hoop set in a pot when grown indoors. Dioscorea elephantipes will live for approx. 70 years in cultivation, if it is looked after.
Exposure: It prefers light shade, but keep the caudex in the shade.
Waterings: It needs moderate to regular water. Slow down or withheld water when the tuber is dormant in summer (after shedding its leaves). It will start growing again in Autumn. Watering can recommence once the plant has shown signs of producing a fresh shoot. Sometimes it ignores its proper growing seasons (from autumn to spring ) and keeps its vines growing long into its rest period, or sends up new vines much earlier than expected. In that case, paying attention to the plant and not the calendar is a good idea.
Hardiness: It is easy to grow if a winter temperature of 5° C can be maintained.
Propagation: Seeds, difficult from cuttings. Sow seeds 5mm deep and keep them warm. Sprouts best in indirect light. The seedlings’ caudex forms below ground and will grow much faster if left underground for a couple of years.