home   about   search

biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Genus: Dioscorea (yams)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Monocotyledons > Order: Dioscoreales > Family: Dioscoreaceae

The number of species in this cosmopilitan genus is quoted as anything between 600 and about 860, of which 23 are native to southern Africa. The term yam in the USA often refers to a variety of sweet potato rather than to true yams. Tubers cooked as a vegetable (high in starch). Diosgenin, a precursor of progesterone and cortisone is produced commercially using a number of species.

Species native to southern Africa

List from Archer (2003), Wilkin et al. (2010), Flora of Zimbabwe and Flora of Mozambique.

Dioscorea asteriscus


Dioscorea brownii


Dioscorea buchananii

Recorded from Zimbabwe and Mozambique.


Dioscorea bulbifera

Recorded from Zimbabwe.


Dioscorea burchellii


Dioscorea cochleari-apiculata


Dioscorea cotinifolia


Dioscorea diversifolia


Dioscorea dregeana


Dioscorea elephantipes


Dioscorea dumetorum

Recorded from Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Dioscorea hemicrypta


Dioscorea hirtiflora


Dioscorea praehensilis

Recorded from Zimbabwe and Mozambique.


Dioscorea quartiniana

Dioscorea retusa


Dioscorea rupicola


Dioscorea sansibarensis

Recorded from Zimbabwe and Mozambique.


Dioscorea schimperiana

Recorded from Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Dioscorea stipulosa


Dioscorea strydomiana

Endemic to Mpumalanga (Wilkin et al. 2010).


Dioscorea sylvatica

Dioscorea undatiloba



  • Archer, R.H. 2003. Dioscoreaceae. In Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds), Plants of southern Africa: an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14: 1047-1049. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria. 

  • Wilkin P., Burrows J., Burrows S., Muasya A.M. and van Wyk E. 2010. A critically endangered new species of yam (Dioscorea strydomiana Wilkin, Dioscoreaceae) from Mpumalanga, South Africa. Kew Bulletin 65: 421-433.