Discover the wonders of Dioscorea elephantipes, also known as the elephant's foot or Hottentot bread. This unique houseplant with its striking appearance and distinctive growth habit is a captivating addition to any indoor space. Learn about its care requirements, propagation methods, and common issues in this informative article. Embark on a rewarding journey into the world of rare and unusual houseplants with Dioscorea elephantipes!


Are you looking for an unusual and unique houseplant to add to your collection? Look no further than the Dioscorea elephantipes, also known as the elephant’s foot or Hottentot bread. This fascinating succulent is not only a stunning addition to any indoor space, but it also offers an intriguing and distinctive growth habit. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of Dioscorea elephantipes, including its appearance, care requirements, propagation methods, and common issues. So, if you’re ready to delve into the world of rare houseplants, keep reading to discover the wonders of Dioscorea elephantipes!

Appearance and Unique Features

Dioscorea elephantipes is a deciduous climber native to the dry interior of South Africa. Its most striking feature is its large, partially buried, tuberous stem, which grows very slowly and can reach a circumference of over 3 meters and a height of nearly 1 meter above the ground. The stem is covered with thick, hard, corky plates, giving it the appearance of an elephant’s foot or a tortoiseshell. This unique caudex is rich in starch, which is why the plant is commonly referred to as Hottentot bread.

The foliage of Dioscorea elephantipes consists of slender, leafy, climbing shoots that emerge in winter (typically May or June in its natural habitat). The leaves are dark-spotted and greenish-yellow. The plant is dioecious, meaning separate male and female flowers appear on different plants. The flowers themselves are small and inconspicuous. Female plants produce seed capsules in September and October.

Cultivation and Care

Dioscorea elephantipes is primarily a winter grower and enters a period of dormancy during the summer. When it comes to cultivation, this plant has specific requirements to ensure its healthy growth. Here are some important factors to consider when caring for Dioscorea elephantipes:

Light requirements:

The tortoise plant, as it is commonly called, prefers a dappled or semi-shaded position. While the green vine tendrils appreciate partial or full sunlight, the caudex is sensitive to prolonged exposure to heat and full sunlight.

Temperature and humidity:

Dioscorea elephantipes thrives in warm climates and can withstand temperatures down to -4°C (24°F). It prefers low humidity environments and is well-suited for arid or semi-arid regions.

Soil and watering:

To grow well, Dioscorea elephantipes requires extremely coarse, well-drained soil. A mixture of sandy loam with well-rotted compost is ideal. Watering should be done sparingly and only when new growth appears from the caudex. During the plant’s summer dormancy, watering should be reduced or even withheld altogether.


Propagation of Dioscorea elephantipes can be achieved through seeds, but it requires patience. The seeds should be sown in a well-draining medium, such as a mixture of sandy loam and perlite, in late winter or early spring. Keep the soil consistently moist and provide bottom heat to aid germination. It may take several weeks or even months for the seeds to sprout.

Common issues:

Dioscorea elephantipes is generally a hardy plant, but it can be susceptible to a few common issues. Overwatering can lead to root rot, so it’s crucial to let the soil dry out between waterings. Additionally, extreme temperatures and direct sunlight can cause leaf burn or scorching.


Dioscorea elephantipes, with its striking caudex and unique growth habit, is a captivating addition to any houseplant collection. This rare and unusual succulent showcases nature’s remarkable diversity and serves as a conversation starter in any indoor space. By providing the right conditions, including well-draining soil, adequate light, and careful watering, you can watch this fascinating plant thrive. While propagating Dioscorea elephantipes from seeds can be a patience-testing process, the satisfaction of successfully growing this remarkable houseplant is well worth the effort. So why not indulge in the wonders of Dioscorea elephantipes and embark on a rewarding journey into the world of rare and unusual houseplants!


[^1]: ‘Dioscorea elephantipes – Wikipedia.’
[^2]: ‘Dioscorea Elephantipes Growing Guide (Elephant Foot Plant).’
[^3]: ‘Dioscorea Elephantipes (Elephant Foot Plant) | Succulent City.’
[^4]: ‘Dioscorea elephantipes | PlantZAfrica.’
[^5]: ‘Dioscorea Elephantipes ‘Elephant Foot’.’
[^6]: ‘How to Grow and Care for Tortoise Plant (Dioscorea elephantipes).’
[^7]: ‘Dioscorea Elephantipes ‘Elephant Foot Plant’.’
[^8]: ‘How Do You Grow Dioscorea Elephantipes From Seed? [Here’s The Answer].’