Air Potato
(Dioscorea bulbifera)

Origin:

Asia and Africa

Introduction to Florida:

Introduced to Florida in 1905 as a medicinal plant

Stage on Invasion Curve:

Long-term management

Description

Air potato is a vine with large, green, heart-shaped leaves. It twines on shrubs and trees, growing up to 100 feet into tree canopies. Air potato rarely flowers in Florida. It is a member of the yam family and produces large numbers of aerial bulbils, or "potatoes." Some of these “potatoes” are brown with rough-skin, and some are tan with smooth skin. The vines die in the fall and grow back from underground tubers in the spring. Bulbils that have fallen off the vines sprout new vines.

Impacts

Air potato grows fast and branches profusely, smothering other plants. It can form a solid canopy, cutting off light to plants below. Air potato vine changes entire plant communities and decreases wildlife habitat. It has engulfed many wooded areas in recreational parks and private lands in Florida.

Where to Find Them

Air potato vines are found in almost every county in Florida (and in neighboring states, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii). It occurs in upland natural areas as well as in seasonally wet areas.

Distribution Maps

What You Can Do

  • If you have air potato vine on your property:
    • Remove vines and underground tubers by hand.
    • For larger infestations, cut vines at the base to keep them from smothering other vegetation. This will need to be repeated several times each growing season.
    • Another option is to cut the vine just above the ground level and spray it with herbicide. However, the herbicide does not fully penetrate the underground tubers so vines are likely to grow back. Care must be taken to avoid killing other plants in the area.
    • Plant native plant species instead (visit FloridaYards.org to learn more).

Report Brazilian peppertree in natural areas on IveGot1.org or using the IveGot1 reporting app.

Biological Control

In 2009, the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS) approved the release of a beetle (Lilioceris cheni), native to Nepal and southern China, which feeds specifically on Florida's air potato vines. These air potato leaf beetles are now being mass produced and released into different areas of Florida by the USDA, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and Fort Pierce Lab of the University of Florida. Preliminary results show extensive damage to air potato vines, but researchers are studying why the vine appears to be resistant in some areas.

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