Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Long Yam

Dioscorea transversa
Before the days of white settlement,the roots of this yam were one of the staple foods of the people in this district. The first white settlers knew the area we now call Prince Henry Heights as “the Yam Ridge”, because this plant was abundant in the rainforest there.
Uneven ground said to be the remains of Aboriginal diggings for the plant can still be seen beside the path in Ravensbourne National Park.

Long yam’s fragrant pale green flowers are beginning to appear now in our local rainforests, and they will be followed (on the female plants) by 3-lobed capsules which will mature to purplish brown, then fade to straw colour and a papery texture as they ripen.

Though we often notice the leaves in the wild, we may have difficulty tracing the plants back to their sources. The inconspicuous, slender stems ramble through shrubs and understorey plants, putting out leaves wherever a patch of sunlight creates the right conditions.
If the point can be found where they exit the ground, some digging reveals a bunch of white carrot-shaped tubers not much thicker than a pencil. They are edible raw, (when small), and said to be delicious roasted. 
Now do they, or do they not, look yummy to you?

The plants die back to their tubers in dry winters.

This is a very drought hardy plant that is ideal to let naturalise in a shrubbery or rainforest-style garden. It is attractive as a foliage specimen, but we must remember to put in a number of plants if we want the pretty seed capsules. Male and female plants are needed for this!
They make charming container plants, looking their best if several are put in a single pot and a small structure provided for climbing.
Shade-lovers, they can be used indoors or out.

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