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Dioscorea sylvatica come Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and South Africa (Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Western Cape). Altitude range: From near sea level up to 1800 metres. Habitat and ecology: Dioscorea sylvatica grows in a variety of wooded and relatively mesic places, such as the moister bushveld areas, margins of forests, bracken or ericoid scrubs, Albany thicket, fynbos, grasslands, savanna, coastal bush and wooded mountain kloofs. It is quite frequent where it occurs but very slow growing (generation length estimated to be 30 years). There was a huge population decline from 1955-1960 as a result of indiscriminate commercial harvesting for diosgenin, a substance that was used to manufacture cortisone and other steroid hormones. Exploitation of tubers for the local medicinal plant trade is ongoing, and is preventing recovery. It is also threatened by the extreme pressure of pastoral grazing that is is changing the micro-habitat of the bush and possibly the decline of mature individuals is also caused by illegal over collection of the tubers that are highly sought after by caudiciform collectors.
The Elephant's Foot Yam, Dioscorea sylvatica, is a semi-tropical slender twining herb with annual stems growing from a massive, reticulated tuberous rootstock or caudex. The caudex that lie flat on the surface of the soil is divided into regular polygonal plates that become protuberant with age, divided by deep furrows. Vigorous, annual climbing stems can grow to as much as 4 or 5 meters in a season. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. Larger caudices rank as curiosities of the plant kingdom, and are eagerly sought after and admired by collectors of succulent plants.
Cultivation and Propagation: Dioscorea sylvatica 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 4 or 5 meters in a season, however these can be trained quite comfortably around a wire hoop set in a pot when grown indoors.