Jaimie Sweetman is Head Gardener of the Edible Forest located on the Yarra Valley Estate in Dixons Creek. Tours of the Edible Forest, often led by Jaimie, take place on Fridays and Saturdays – read more and book your place on a future tour.
[Editor: the term’ yam’ is used to refer to many plants in the genus Dioscorea, each of which has starchy, edible tubers. The most commonly cultivated yam is the Guinea yam (Dioscorea cayenensis), which is native to Africa.]
Originating in China, the cinnamon yam (Dioscorea polystachya) is a vine which has beautiful heart-shaped leaves that climb up structures in full sun to semi shade. A true perennial, it dies down over winter ready to re-merge in spring. It grows large tubers (aka yams) underground which can get to up to 30cm long.
One of the most interesting parts of this plant is the bulbils that it gets on the vine itself and which are like little mini yams. The vine bulbils look and taste like mini potatoes once steamed with some butter; they make a great treat and are just fun to have in the garden. These bulbils are also a way to propagate the plant and their existence is why the plant is sometimes called the Chinese or air potato.
In our garden, the vine dose not spread or become weedy but if you do live on bushland it might be one to keep an eye on. In general, though we find this vine to be a lovely non-invasive unique plant that is a must for food forests or just simply on a balcony terrace.
Did I mention that the flowers smell like cinnamon?
[Image courtesy of this website.]