Botanical Update: Do Not Plant!

Those “Beach Nuts” I showed pictures of yesterday are bad business!

Thanks to FloriFloydian Jeff, these things have now been ID’d as “air potato.” They’re not from around here (originated in Africa and Asia) but have quite taken over Florida’s native forests in places. See this piece about air potato.

The “nuts”, as I thought, are vegetative “propagules” by which these things spread, along with underground tubers that persist after burning or cutting the above-ground parts. Once established, these things are the devil to get rid of.

If I’d seen the source, I would have recognized the genus: Dioscorea. It shows a close resemblance to our southern US “wild yam” in the same genus.

The edibility of these tuberous growths is apparently debatable. Wikipedia claims this is the most widely-consumed yam species world-wide. The wild ones, like those growing near our friends’ place in Sarasota, are considered poisonous because they contain a steroid similar to that used in hormonal contraceptives.

As US climate warms, expect this one eventually to survive farther and farther north. Kudzu, meet Air Potato.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I sure hope that air potato stays away for a while at least…
    I have been enjoying Slow Road Home very much. Thank you for writing so creatively about our region of Virginia.

  2. Fred, these are the hardest things in the world to eliminate from the garden! One was inadvertently planted along with a “gifted” azalea. Before long, that thing was taking over the hillside! I literally had to dig out the “potatoes” and burn them until they were ashes! One tiny root left in the ground will sprout up in a matter of days! I am so glad to say that I finally beat the monster! Thanks for this post..I can now identify what I was fighting!