All around us, plants are competing for soil, water, and sunlight to survive. According to the National Invasive Species Council, “an invasive species is a non-native species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to animal, plant, or health.” For many years the problem of invasive species in Florida has become a top issue in the conservation of native plant life. Many of the hundreds of invasive species in Florida have no natural predator to hinder their excessive growth. This unfortunate dilemma has caused widespread growth and the disruption of Florida’s ecological system.

One such invasive plant, Dioscorea bulbifera, or the air potato, is part of the yam family. It is essentially a twisting vine that can grow up to 70 feet or more in length usually attaching itself to anything vertical such as trees or fences. The air potato cannot support its weight, so it must rely on the support of trees and bushes to grow. The air potato grows rapidly-an astounding 8 inches per day. Because of this rapid growth it virtually takes over all native plants. It spreads new plants from its bulbils (an aerial tuber) which look like a regular potato. Each plant grows from the root bulbil which is underground; if the root bulbil is not chemically treated or dug up, the plant will regrow. Even the smallest bulbils of the air potato are able to sprout new potatoes, making the species extremely hard to eradicate.

Since 1993, the air potato has been considered one of Florida’s most invasive plant species. The air potato is originally from tropical Asia, and has spread from Africa to Florida possibly through a slaver ship. It was introduced to Florida in 1905 and has quickly spread throughout the state. Every year multiple counties in Florida enlist the help of citizens to work towards removing the invasive plant. Removing visible bulbils above ground and under ground is one of the best prevention methods. It is difficult to remove the plant mechanically, as fire and machines damage other plants; mechanical methods make the problem worse since it spreads smaller bulbils across terrain. Chemical management is the most effective way to eliminate the invasive plant. To completely eradicate the plant, one must be careful not to snap the vines off; the chemical must reach the root bulbil in order to kill the plant and prevent it from regrowing.

Many of our lovely readers may ask: “Can you in fact eat an air potato?” Our answer to you my friends is yes, yes you can. The air potato is known to be eaten in Hawaii and Panama. It can be steamed or boiled made ready for the belly. One of our sources suggests putting the plant of starchy goodness into rice near the end of the cooking process; you can cook the rice for about five minutes with the potatoes added. This will result in a delicious, scrumptious, delectable sensation on one’s palate. However, air potatoes can be poisonous; one must take precautions when handling air potatoes.

“Uncultivated forms, such as those found growing wild in Florida can be poisonous. These varieties contain the steroid, diosgenin, which is a principal material used in the manufacture of a number of synthetic steroidal hormones such as those used in hormonal contraception. There have been claims that even the wild forms are rendered edible after drying and boiling, leading to confusion over actual toxicity.” (wikipedia)

Sources:

http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/guide/invplant.html

http://www.walterreeves.com/landscaping/air-potato/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_potato

Contributors:

Danny Samuels – Dan Mitchell – Sean Cruz

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2 responses »

  1. Patrick Bradford says:

    I cannot believe you can actually eat these. these things are all over my backyard and i have always wondered what they were so thank you for writing this and enlightening me! i feel like eating one would have to be on fear factor or survivor they just look so nasty! its astounding how quickly it grows 8 inches a day! thats far too fast.

  2. Interesting… I’ve never seen these around school but I’m going to look for them now. I can’t believe how quickly they grow- that’s faster then bamboo (another invasive species). I find it so interesting how many invasive species have taken over so many areas of the world. What would our planet look like without the “migration” of these plants because of us? Will we ever rid areas of the invaders?
    I also want to know what these taste like. Maybe if I ever go to Hawaii I’ll ask if it’s on the menu.
    -Ailish Reilly

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