Mother Nature’s Garden: Chinese Yam: Friend or Foe? -Farmville

Mother Nature’s Garden: Chinese Yam: Friend or Foe?  -Farmville

Mother Nature’s Garden: Chinese Yam: Friend or Foe?

Published at 1:22pm Friday, October 6, 2023

Mother Nature's GardenTHere are two types of alleys in my hometown: the neat and tidy ones with carefully manicured sidewalks and edges and then all the others. The ones with potholes, standing water, jungle-like vines, and strange groups of unknown plants encroaching on the road. Wandering the latter often leads to some interesting and sometimes disturbing discoveries.

A few weeks ago, I was wandering down my alley. It’s well-kept and boring on one side, but the other side is filled with a mixture of plants that include the good, the bad and the positively terrible. Within about five minutes, I found sweet peas that had escaped from someone’s garden, Japanese honeysuckle, bouquetweed, autumn olive, Chinese knotweed, green thistle, common morning glories, sweet autumn jasmine, Chinese yam, and climbing milkweed vine. In addition to various shrubs and jasmine plants. papyrus. An untidy forest includes five plants on Virginia’s official list of invasive species.

Two of the bullies right up my alley are vines: Chinese yam and sweet fall jasmine (they’re not on the state’s list of invasive plants, but they’re still difficult to control). The Chinese yam is perhaps the more interesting of the two. It was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s for use as an ornamental plant in gardens, but it quickly escaped cultivation and is now listed as a highly invasive plant in Virginia.

It is an attractive, twining vine that covers everything nearby. My garden is undoubtedly next. Chinese yam threads clockwise and can grow 12 to 16 feet long. It grows from long tubers and has steadfastly shaped leaves with parallel veins. It is a monocot. There are occasional flowers that are not particularly showy. In late summer, small, warty, potato-like bulbs (aerial tubers) appear in the leaf axils. New plants sprout from the bulbs, which is the primary means for Chinese yams to produce new plants.

Native to Asia, where it has been used in traditional medicine and as a food source for thousands of years, the Chinese yam is an important crop for domestic consumption and export. The tubers are rich in nutrients and bioactive metabolites, such as resistant starches, which may help prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and problems with the gut biome. Because Chinese yams are so rich in nutrients, can be eaten like potatoes, and grow well in temperate climates, they were sent to Ireland during the potato famine. Agricultural specialists had hoped that the Chinese yam would become an alternative crop, but there was little interest in it.

Since then, scientists have continued to re-examine the various uses of the Chinese yam. According to research published in 2020, Chinese yam is an underutilized orphan crop that has the potential to help fight malnutrition and hunger globally. It grows well in moderate climates, has a long history in cultivation, and produces tubers of high nutritional value. There are actually at least 14 varieties currently grown in China; Each variety produces a tuber with a distinctive shape that appeals to a specific local market. Unfortunately, Chinese yam is a labor-intensive crop and is not suitable for mechanical harvesting. In Japan, farmers have partly solved the problem by growing tubers in long underground tubes, making harvesting easier while also reducing the amount of breakage. Chinese yam is also grown in France and exported to many other European countries.

The Chinese yam is certainly an interesting plant with a complex history. It’s easy to understand why Victorian gardeners were happy to grow them on trellises and walls. It was highly valued as a novelty and was easy to cultivate. Unfortunately, one person’s new favorite garden plant is another person’s nightmare. Or perhaps through careful cultivation, Chinese yams will eventually become a high-value food crop for new regions of the world.

doctor. Cynthia Wood He is a professional gardener who writes two columns for Herald. Her email address is

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