1. Family: Araceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Amorphophallus Blume ex Decne.
      1. Amorphophallus paeoniifolius (Dennst.) Nicolson

        Elephant yam is a striking aroid with a flower spike crowned with a bulbous maroon knob and encircled by a fleshy maroon and green-blotched bract. The solitary leaf, which emerges after the flowering parts, resembles a small tree.


    Araceae, S.J. Mayo. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1985

    It is quite distinct from the native East African species in the subglobose to broadly conic, coarsely furrowed and crumpled spadix appendix, surrounded by a campaniform purple spathe.

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    A striking aroid from tropical Asia, elephant yam is extensively cultivated for its edible tubers.

    Elephant yam is a striking aroid with a flower spike crowned with a bulbous maroon knob and encircled by a fleshy maroon and green-blotched bract. The solitary leaf, which emerges after the flowering parts, resembles a small tree.

    Amorphophallus paeoniifolius has been in cultivation throughout tropical Asia for centuries. The tubers are the third most important carbohydrate source after rice and maize in Indonesia. They are also consumed widely in India and Sri Lanka, although elsewhere they are seen as a famine crop, to be used when more popular staples, such as rice, are in short supply.

    Elephant yam belongs to the same genus as the crowd-pulling titan arum ( Amorphophallus titanum). It should not be confused with Dioscorea species, which are also known by the common name yam, but belong to a different plant family (Dioscoreaceae). In particular it should not be confused with elephant’s foot yam ( Dioscorea elephantipes) from South Africa.

    Elephant yam has medicinal properties and is used in many Ayurvedic (traditional Hindu) preparations. The tubers are considered to have pain-killing, anti-inflammatory, anti-flatulence, digestive, aphrodisiac, rejuvenating and tonic properties. They are traditionally used in the treatment of a wide range of conditions including parasitic worms, inflammation, coughs, flatulence, constipation, anaemia, haemorrhoids and fatigue.

    Further research is needed to determine the pharmacological properties of elephant yam.

    Species Profile

    Geography and distribution

    Amorphophallus paeoniifolius is considered to be native to southern China (including Taiwan), Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Borneo, Java, Peninsular Malaysia, Philippines, Sulawesi, Sumatra, New Guinea, northern Australia, Fiji and Samoa.

    It is found in secondary forest or highly disturbed areas, up to 800 m above sea level.

    It is considered naturalised in Madagascar and the Seychelles.

    Elephant yam has been in cultivation throughout tropical Asia for centuries. It has been widely transported by humans and easily escapes from cultivation to become naturalised, so that its natural distribution is not clear.


    Overview: Perennial herb. A single inflorescence (flowering structure) is produced, followed by a solitary leaf. After the growing season, this dies back to an underground storage organ (tuber).

    Tuber (thickened part of underground stem):Dark brown, flattened-globe-shaped, up to 50 × 30 cm with prominent root scars. Weighing up to about 15 kg.

    Leaves:Usually one (sometimes two) per tuber. Petiole (leaf stalk) up to 2 m tall and 20 cm in diameter with rough, warty surface. Background colour pale to dark green or blackish-green with pale blotches and numerous tiny dark dots. Leaf blade up to 3 m in diameter and deeply divided into segments. Leaflets up to 35 × 12 cm.

    Spadix (flower spike):Up to 70 cm long. The lowermost portion of the spadix is female and is covered with pistils (female parts). Each pistil consists of a pale green or maroon ovary with a maroon stalk (style) and two- or three-lobed yellow head (stigma). The next floral zone is male and contains tightly-packed yellowish stamens. At the tip of the spadix is a bulbous, dark maroon, rounded to deeply wrinkled appendix.

    Spathe (bract surrounding spadix):Bell-shaped, broader than long, up to 45 × 60 cm, pale green to dark brown with paler blotches on exterior. Opening outwards to form a frilled, glossy maroon, collar-like structure around the spadix. Basal portion of interior pale green-yellow.

    Fruits: About 2 × 1 cm, bright red when ripe. Borne on a spike up to 50 cm long and 8 cm in diameter, the fruiting part held aloft on a peduncle (stalk) 20–100 cm long.

    The flower spike (spadix) emits an odour reminiscent of rotting flesh, which attracts pollinators such as carrion flies and beetles.


    Elephant yam is widely cultivated for its edible tubers, which are an important source of carbohydrate in India and Indonesia and a valued secondary crop throughout tropical Asia. It can be found on sale further afield (including Hounslow, not far from Kew in the UK) in international food markets.

    It is also widely used as fodder.

    Elephant yam is cultivated as an ornamental for its striking compound foliage and unusual and dramatic flowering and fruiting structures.

    This species at Kew

    Elephant yam can be seen growing in the Tropical Carnivorous Zone (Zone 8) of the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew.

    This newly redeveloped zone is home to many other species including Nepenthes truncata, N. rafflesiana, N. veitchii, N. bicalcarata and the recently described N. robcantleyi. The zone also features voodoo lily ( Amorphophallus variabilis) and a new hybrid at Kew A. decus-silvae × gigas, plus a range of epiphytic ferns and orchids including Bulbophyllum species.

    Dried and alcohol-preserved specimens of Amorphophallus paeoniifolius are held in Kew’s Herbarium. The details, including images, of some of these can be seen online in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.

    Australia, China, India, Laos, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam
    Secondary forest or highly disturbed areas.
    Not considered to be threatened.

    Tubers of wild plants are highly acrid and can irritate the mouth and throat on ingestion due to the presence of calcium oxalate crystals.

    Is cultivated in many parts of the Old World Tropics for its massive starchy tuber.
    Food, fodder, medicine.



    Found In:

    Andaman Is., Assam, Bangladesh, Borneo, Cambodia, China South-Central, China Southeast, East Himalaya, Hainan, India, Jawa, Laos, Lesser Sunda Is., Malaya, Maluku, Myanmar, New Guinea, Northern Territory, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sulawesi, Sumatera, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam

    Introduced Into:

    Cook Is., Fiji, Madagascar, New Caledonia, Niue, Samoa, Seychelles, Society Is., Trinidad-Tobago

    Common Names

    Elephant yam

    Amorphophallus paeoniifolius (Dennst.) Nicolson appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Sep 4, 2006 s.coll. [s.n.], Indonesia K000455097
    Jun 1, 2000 s.coll. [s.n.], Indonesia K000455095
    Jun 1, 2000 s.coll. [s.n.], Indonesia K000455098
    May 1, 2000 s.coll. [s.n.], Indonesia K000455094
    May 1, 2000 Horsfield, T. [s.n.], Indonesia K000455096
    Jul 14, 1995 Kerr, A.F.G. [12624], Thailand K000455105
    Jul 14, 1995 Collins, D.J. [1069], Thailand K000455106
    Jul 14, 1995 Collins, D.J. [1557], Thailand K000455107
    Jan 1, 1994 Kerr, A.F.G. [12824], Thailand K000291508 Unknown type material
    Jan 1, 1994 Kerr, A.F.G. [12824], Thailand K000291509 Unknown type material
    Jan 1, 1994 s.coll. [s.n.], Thailand K000291533 Unknown type material
    Jan 1, 1994 s.coll. [s.n.], Thailand K000291534 Unknown type material
    Jan 1, 1994 s.coll. [s.n.], Thailand K000291535 Unknown type material
    Jan 1, 1994 s.coll. [s.n.], Thailand K000291536 Unknown type material
    Jan 1, 1994 Harley [136], Thailand K000291537 Unknown type material
    Jan 1, 1994 Harley [136], Thailand K000291538 Unknown type material
    Jan 1, 1994 s.coll. [s.n.], Thailand K000291540 Unknown type material
    Jan 1, 1994 s.coll. [s.n.], Indonesia K000455099
    Jan 1, 1994 s.coll. [s.n.], Thailand K000455100
    Jan 1, 1994 s.coll. [s.n.], Thailand K000455101
    Jan 1, 1994 s.coll. [4722], Thailand K000455102
    Jan 1, 1994 Kerr, A.F.G. [3619], Thailand K000455103
    Jan 1, 1994 Kerr, A.F.G. [3619], Thailand K000455104
    Jan 1, 1994 Wichian [322], Thailand K000455108
    Jan 1, 1994 s.coll. [2067], Vietnam K000455109
    Jan 1, 1994 s.coll. [s.n.], Andaman Is. K000950261 isolectotype
    Jan 1, 1994 s.coll. [s.n.], Andaman Is. K000950262 isolectotype
    Thailand 25032.000
    Thailand 29047.789
    Thailand 29047.795
    Thailand 29047.373
    Sri Lanka 29047.457
    Harley [136], Thailand K000291539 Unknown type material
    Sri Lanka 29047.464
    Bogner, J., Seychelles 34673.000
    s.coll. [s.n.], Andaman Is. K000950257 Unknown type material
    s.coll. [s.n.], Andaman Is. K000950258 Unknown type material
    s.coll. [s.n.], Andaman Is. K000950259 Unknown type material
    India 48116.000
    Prain, D. [s.n.], Andaman Is. K000950260 Unknown type material
    Thailand 29047.621

    First published in Taxon 26: 337 (1977)

    Accepted in:

    • [4] (2012) Flora of Thailand 11(2): 101-325. The Forest Herbarium, National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Bangkok.
    • [7] Mansor, M., Boyce, P.C., Othman, A.S. & Sulaiman, B. (2012) The Araceae of peninsular Malaysia . Penerbit Universiti Sains Malaysia.
    • [8] (2011) Acta Phytotaxonomica et Geobotanica 61: 40-50
    • [9] (2010) Flora of China 23: 1-515. Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis.
    • [10] (2009) Reinwardtia 13: 1-12
    • [13] Govaerts, R. & Frodin, D.G. (2002) World Checklist and Bibliography of Araceae (and Acoraceae) . The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [18] Welsh, S.L. (1998) Flora Societensis . E.P.S. Inc. Utah.
    • [20] Govaerts, R. (1995) World Checklist of Seed Plants 1(1, 2): 1-483, 1-529. MIM, Deurne.


    • [1] (2016) Phytotaxa 250: 1-431
    • [2] Sykes, W.R. (2016) Flora of the Cook Islands . National Tropical Botanical Garden, Hawaii.
    • [3] Li, H. & Hetterscheid, W. (2013). Flora of China, Amorphophallus paeoniifolius.
    • [5] (2012) Korean Journal of Plant Taxonomy 42: 222-246
    • [6] Boyce, P. C. et al. (2012). Flora of Thailand, Volume 11, Part 2, Araceae. The Forest Herbarium, Bangkok, Thailand.
    • [11] Das, S. S., Sen, M. Dey, Y. N., De, S. & Ghosh, A. K. (2009). Effects of petroleum ether extract of Amorphophallus paeoniifolius tuber on central nervous system in mice. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 71: 651–655.
    • [12] Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
    • [14] Roberts, T. (2002). Amorphophallus paeoniifolius. Australian National Botanic Gardens: Growing Native Plants.
    • [15] (2001) Bangladesh Journal of Plant Taxonomy 8(2): 19-34
    • [16] Dy Phon, P. (2000) Dictionnaire des plantes utilisées au Cambodge . Chez l'auteur, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
    • [17] Huxley, A., Griffiths, M. & Levy, M. (eds) (1999). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening. Volume 1 (A to C). Macmillan Reference, London.
    • [19] Flach, M. & Rumawas, F. (eds) (1996). Plant Resources of South-East Asia, No. 9, Plants Yielding Non-Seed Carbohydrates. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden.
    • [21] MacKee, H.S. (1994) Catalogue des plantes introduites et cultivées en Nouvelle-Calédonie , ed. 2: 1-164. Museum national d'histoire naturelle, Paris.
    • [22] (1970) Bulletin, New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial Research 200: 1-321


    Flora of Tropical East Africa
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    International Plant Names Index
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    Kew Species Profiles
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    World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
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