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Dioscorea balcanica BotGardBln310505.jpg
Dioscorea balcanica
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Dioscoreales
Family: Dioscoreaceae
Genus: Dioscorea
  • Botryosicyos
  • Combilium
  • Enantiophyllum
  • Lasiophyton
  • Macroura
    • Macrourae
  • Macrogynodium
  • Opsophyton
    • Euopsophyton
  • Shannicorea
  • Stenophora

(Not all are supported by molecular analyses.[1] See tropicos query cited for more.[2])

  • Tamus L.
  • Ricophora Mill.
  • Tamnus Mill.
  • Oncus Lour.
  • Ubium J.F.Gmel.
  • Oncorhiza Pers.
  • Testudinaria Salisb. ex Burch.
  • Rhizemys Raf.
  • Botryosicyos Hochst.
  • Helmia Kunth
  • Sismondaea Delponte
  • Epipetrum Phil.
  • Borderea Miégev.
  • Elephantodon Salisb.
  • Hamatris Salisb.
  • Merione Salisb.
  • Polynome Salisb.
  • Strophis Salisb.
  • Higinbothamia Uline
  • Nanarepenta Matuda
  • Hyperocarpa (Uline) G.M.Barroso, E.F.Guim. & Sucre

Dioscorea is a genus of over 600 species of flowering plants in the family Dioscoreaceae, native throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions of the world. The vast majority of the species are tropical, with only a few species extending into temperate climates.[3][4][5][6] It was named by the monk Charles Plumier after the ancient Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides.


Wild Yam (Dioscorea) is a vine that is invasive, deciduous, and herbaceous.[7] This species is native to Asia, though, in the U.S., it is commonly found in Florida. They can grow over 18 metres (60 feet) in length.[8] Wild yams are an important crop, as they have been used to prevent menstrual cramps, stomach cramps, and general pain for centuries. During the 1950s scientists found that the roots of wild yams contained diosgenin which is a plant-based estrogen; diosgenin is hypothesized to aid in chemical defense against herbivores. This was used to create the first birth control pills during the 60s.[9] In addition, some Dioscorea species are rich in nutrients and antioxidants. This is beneficial in rural areas where the plant is native because it enriches the diets of individuals who live in the area.[10] These plants grow best near canopy gaps in woodlands and rainforests. Dioscorea uses vining behavior which is useful in tropical habitats because Dioscorea grow under canopies and need to latch onto different surfaces in order to grow upwards and acquire resources. [11]

Cultivation and uses[edit]

Several species, known as yams, are important agricultural crops in tropical regions, grown for their large tubers. Many of these are toxic when fresh, but can be detoxified and eaten, and are particularly important in parts of Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

One class of toxins found in many species is steroidal saponins, which can be converted through a series of chemical reactions into steroid hormones for use in medicine and as contraceptives.

The 1889 book "The Useful Native Plants of Australia" records that Dioscorea hastifolia is "One of the hardiest of the yams. The tubers are largely consumed by the local aborigines for food. (Mueller)."[12]


Although the mechanism of Dioscorea vine behavior is unknown, it is likely that Dioscorea acts similarly to vines in terms of growth and movement behavior. Vines have a touch-sensitive component that allows them to locate and latch onto a supporting base. They use nearby plants, rocks, trees, and structures for physical support. Their touch receptors allow them to reach out and sense objects. Vines seek out these surfaces by sending out shoots to assess the area. This behavior is dependent on the species, but these shoots typically move in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction, induced by circadian rhythms (Digital time-lapse video)[13].[14] When the vine makes contact with an object, the tendril shoot will coil around the object; this is a reaction called thigmotropism.[15]  This tendril can control the amount of tension and squeeze the object to stay attached to it and prevent falling. Leaf growth is typically postponed until the relative stem has secured support. When leaf growth is delayed, shoot growth is hastened. Some vines produce an adhesive on their stems that contain calcium to better latch onto structures. A gradient is produced and the calcium exits cells to spread over stems. Furthermore, Dioscorea is a twiner, this means that the plant undergoes circumnutation which is a helical movement that allows stems to wrap around objects. In order for this mechanism to take place, endodermal cells, plasmodesmata, the plasma membrane, epidermal cells, calcium, potassium, chloride, and proton pumps are required.[16] The SCR gene is also crucial for twining to occur.[17] To better understand the physiology of Dioscorea further research must be conducted as much has still not been discovered.


In 2009, an experiment was conducted to address the mechanism of force generation in the twining plant, Dioscorea bulbifera. To do this, the authors used a mechanical pole that measured the squeezing force of the twining vine. Plants were grown in a greenhouse setting, and once the shoots of the plants started "circumnutating," a pole was introduced to allow for twining around the object. Authors found that the amount of force being applied to the pole when the vine is twining is due to the stretching of the stipule. The forces of the bending and twisting motion of D. bulbifera did not generate a measurable force.  In addition, this experiment indicates that stipules[18] are not the only driving force for tension in vines and that they contribute to increased squeezing force later in development.[19]

Overall, Dioscorea has a vining mechanism that allows it to obtain nutrients while living under a canopy; it has evolved to do this by seeking out surfaces to climb and latch onto. Vines, like Dioscorea, have touch-sensitive components that allow them to specialize in this behavior.


The Alangan Tribe of Mangyan in the Island of Mindoro in the Philippines, locally known as Karot/Nami; Uses this type of tuber as an alternative of rice. Mangyan people typically soak it for 3 days, wash it in the running streams, dried for 2 days, and soak for 2 hours before cooking like a typical rice.


Accepted species (613), subspecies, and varieties[edit]

The genus includes the following species and subspecies:[citation needed]



























The closely related genus Tamus is included in Dioscorea by some sources,[22] but is maintained as distinct by others.[23] For Dioscorea communis (L.) Caddick & Wilkin, see Tamus communis.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Couto, Ricardo S; Martins, Aline C; Bolson, Mônica; Lopes, Rosana C; Smidt, Eric C; Braga, João Marcelo A (28 September 2018). "Time calibrated tree of Dioscorea (Dioscoreaceae) indicates four origins of yams in the Neotropics since the Eocene". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 188 (2): 144–160. doi:10.1093/botlinnean/boy052.
  2. ^ "Name - Dioscorea L. (Subgeneric subordinate taxa)". legacy.tropicos.org.
  3. ^ a b "World Checklist of Selected Plant Families: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew". apps.kew.org. Retrieved 2017-01-23.
  4. ^ Govaerts, R., Wilkin, P. & Saunders, R.M.K. (2007). World Checklist of Dioscoreales. Yams and their allies: 1-65. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  5. ^ Wilkin, P. & Thapyai, C. (2009). Flora of Thailand 10(1): 1-140. The Forest Herbarium, National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Bangkok.
  6. ^ "Dioscorea communis [Tamaro]". luirig.altervista.org (in Italian). Retrieved 2017-01-23.
  7. ^ "Vine", Wikipedia, 2022-02-10, retrieved 2022-05-31
  8. ^ "This is my first test on FB". MISIN. Retrieved 2022-05-31.
  9. ^ "Wild yam Information | Mount Sinai - New York". Mount Sinai Health System. Retrieved 2022-05-31.
  10. ^ Kumar, Sanjeet; Das, Gitishree; Shin, Han-Seung; Patra, Jayanta Kumar (2017). "Dioscorea spp. (A Wild Edible Tuber): A Study on Its Ethnopharmacological Potential and Traditional Use by the Local People of Similipal Biosphere Reserve, India". Frontiers in Pharmacology. 8: 52. doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00052. ISSN 1663-9812. PMC 5306286. PMID 28261094.
  11. ^ "Dioscorea spp". www.fs.fed.us. Retrieved 2022-05-31.
  12. ^ J. H. Maiden (1889). The useful native plants of Australia : Including Tasmania. Turner and Henderson, Sydney.
  13. ^ circumnutation, retrieved 2022-05-31
  14. ^ "Characteristics of Vines". Sciencing. Retrieved 2022-05-31.
  15. ^ "Thigmotropism", Wikipedia, 2021-11-18, retrieved 2022-05-31
  16. ^ Stolarz, Maria (May 2009). "Circumnutation as a visible plant action and reaction: physiological, cellular and molecular basis for circumnutations". Plant Signaling & Behavior. 4 (5): 380–387. doi:10.4161/psb.4.5.8293. ISSN 1559-2324. PMC 2676747. PMID 19816110.
  17. ^ Isnard, S.; Silk, W. K. (2009-07-01). "Moving with climbing plants from Charles Darwin's time into the 21st century". American Journal of Botany. 96 (7): 1205–1221. doi:10.3732/ajb.0900045. ISSN 0002-9122. PMID 21628270.
  18. ^ "Stipule", Wikipedia, 2022-03-06, retrieved 2022-05-31
  19. ^ Isnard et al. 2009.
  20. ^ iJuander et al. 2022.
  21. ^ Wilkin, Paul; Annette Hladik; Odile Weber; Claude Marcel Hladik; Vololoniana Jeannoda (September 2009). "Dioscorea orangeana (Dioscoreaceae), a new and threatened species of edible yam from northern Madagascar" (PDF). Kew Bulletin. 64 (3): 461–468. doi:10.1007/s12225-009-9126-2. ISSN 1874-933X. S2CID 43183514.
  22. ^ World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, retrieved 2011-05-28, search for "Tamus"
  23. ^ Stace, Clive (2010), New Flora of the British Isles (3rd ed.), Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-70772-5, p. 854