Where potato?
March 28, 2009 7:54 AM   Subscribe

trouble sourcing air potatoes?

It seems that many locals consider the air potato to be a noxious week that will choke out all life in its quick growing desire for total dominance of an ecosystem. Florida has put this plant, dioscorea bulbifera, on it's list of noxious weeds banned in the state. The same traits that make it easy for to spread and take over an area also make it an ideal low maintenance food crop for the home garden, if grown in an ecologically sensitive way (eat the potatoes, gather them on a regular basis, don't let them go to seed, grow them on a trellis and not on a tree, and destroy runner vines escaping your designated air potato area)

Some varieties are poisonous, while others are sweet and delicious. Apparently, this vine was independently domesticated in both Africa and Asia. The Asian varieties are apparently better tasting and easy to prepare.

My question is two-fold:

1) What are some Asian names for this plant?
2) Does anyone know where an Asian variety is available for sale?
posted by Pants! to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
From the Nature Conservancy website regarding the Invasive Species "Air Potatoes":

Air potatoes are grown by gardeners who like it for its vining habit and foliage. Even a quick internet search will unearth lots of people willing to sell tubers or live plants. There is no denying that its heart-shaped leaves are attractive and that it is a pretty plant. That is, until you’ve seen what it can do to wild lands.

Once air potato becomes established in the wild, it begins producing countless little bulbils on its stems. Even a bulbil as small as your fingernail will sprout and result in a new plant. Bulbils can float and travel long distances. Once just a problem for Hawaii and Florida, the plant is now spreading along the Gulf Coast and is showing up in other areas too.

nature.org: What is the Conservancy doing about it?

Barry Rice: Preventing the spread of invasive species is one of the Conservancy’s global priorities. We work on our own lands as well as coordinate with other private and public land managers to control this and other invasive species on wild lands. The best and most cost effective way to stop the spread of invasive species is to prevent the introduction from happening in the first place.

It's possible you're having trouble sourcing these because they're banned in many states and have a tendency to wreak havoc on established eco-systems. I guess if people want to help you find them through their Asian names and, thus, through an overseas distributor they might want to know a little bit more about the problem they're contributing to.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:33 AM on March 28, 2009

The delightful MMPND has lots of names.
posted by gubo at 8:47 AM on March 28, 2009

Thanks Tilapia. I imagine that is the problem. However, if you eat the tubers rather than letting them start new vines, it mostly contains the problem.
posted by Pants! at 9:20 AM on March 28, 2009

So an invasive, illegal plant is OK for you because you are special?
posted by RussHy at 10:09 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Watch out for birds or other small creatures taking/eating the small tubers before you get a chance to pick them. You might want to consider covering the plants with fine netting to prevent this.

Also, you might want to avoid going on vacation whenever the plant might fruit.

Or you could keep it inside a pest-proof greenhouse.
posted by amtho at 10:11 AM on March 28, 2009

Please be careful - even if you "mostly contain" the problem, it would only take one plant outside of your control to start its own invasion.
posted by amtho at 10:12 AM on March 28, 2009

So an invasive, illegal plant is OK for you because you are special?

I'd rather not get into a debate about whether this is appropriate or not and stick to the question. Opinions diverge.
posted by Pants! at 10:32 AM on March 28, 2009

I'd rather not get into a debate about whether this is appropriate or not and stick to the question. Opinions diverge.

And there was someone that shot the last wild passenger pigeon. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should, and getting head-in-the-sand-ish about a plant generally considered to be an invasive and noxious weed and maintaining a "stick to the question!!!" attitude doesn't mean others aren't going to point out that this may be a Really Bad Idea. So consider growing one of the many more suitable varieties of potatoes/yams/etc and not being the guy that introduced air potatoes to Texas just because it was an easy crop to raise.
posted by 6550 at 11:07 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you have to, looks like there are tuber exchanges on the GardenWeb forum.

But seriously, would you want to be neighbours with someone who was growing a noxious weed? Whilst rhodie bashing (removing invasive rhodendron ponticum with saws, picks, stump-pullers, fire and extreme prejudice) in miserable weather on Scottish hillsides, I cheered myself up thinking of more and more hideous ends for the first person who thought, "Such pretty flowers! I simply must have them in my garden!"
posted by scruss at 11:24 AM on March 28, 2009

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