Succulents

Dioscorea Elephantipes Guide: How to Grow & Care for “Elephant’s Foot”

Our Guide to Dioscorea Elephantipes - Everything you will ever need to know! Tips for planting and caring for "Elephant’s Foot" Plant
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Want a unique and long-living succulent in your home? You should get yourself an Elephant’s Foot plant!

Dioscorea Elephantipes, or commonly known as Elephant’s Foot Vine, is one of the most unique and beautiful caudiciform plants around. Its uniqueness doesn’t only come from how the plant looks, but also from how it acts. Just when you thought that you knew everything about houseplants, this slow-growing succulent will surely surprise you. And the best thing about it is that it’s really easy to care for and can be a wonderful focal point in your home.

Want to learn more about how to grow and care for Elephant’s Foot plants? Keep reading our article!

About Elephant’s Foot

  • Native to South Africa, Elephant’s Foot Vine’s botanical name is Dioscorea Elephantipes, and it belongs to the category of tropical and tender perennials. Other popular names of this plant include Hottentots’ Bread, Turtle Back, Tortoise Back Plant, and Turtle Shell.
  • Elephant’s Foot plants are suitable for growing in containers and can be amazing indoor greenery decorations, suitable for both home and office environments. They have pretty typical growing requirements, which make them easy to grow.
  • What’s unique about this plant, besides its look, is the fact that it takes naps at one or several points throughout the year. This is called a dormancy period, and it is a time when the plant decides for itself that it needs some rest. What’s really weird is that for each particular Elephant’s Foot plant, the dormancy period doesn’t seem to depend on the season, growing conditions, or anything else. In fact, even two plants grown in the same pot can go dormant at different times of the year.
  • Another weird and unique fact about Elephant’s Foot plant is that it is dioecious, meaning that the male and female flowers appear on different plants.
  • Elephant’s Foot plants are slow-growing succulents that can live for decades if provided with ideal growing conditions and can be passed down between generations. These plants can live up to seventy years or even more when cared for properly.
  • Elephant’s Foot plants prefer warm climates and temperatures. You should keep your plant at around 65°F (18°C) minimum for it to thrive.
  • These plants prefer full sun but can also adapt to partial shade. Yet, like most succulents that prefer a lot of light, these plants look best when kept in bright direct sun.
  • Elephant’s Foot plants have typical water needs like most succulents. They hate wet feet and are prone to rot root, which is why they should not be kept damp as it may be the case with other tropical plants. To avoid overwatering your Elephant’s Foot plant, you need to allow the soil to almost dry out before watering it again.
  • Since they don’t like wet feet, Elephant’s Foot plants do best in porous, well-drained potting soil. If you live in an area with excess humidity, it is twice more important to provide your Elephant’s Foot plant with good drainage to maintain it’s root system healthy and prevent root rot.
  • Elephant’s Foot plants are toxic to humans and pets. All parts of the plants contain saponins. So, when consumed by children or pets, they can lead to severe poisoning. If you grow your Elephant’s Foot plant indoors, make sure you place it in a spot out of your kids’ or pets’ reach.
Dioscorea Elephantipes
Dioscorea Elephantipes

Elephant’s Foot Features: An overview

  • The first noticeable aspect of the Elephant’s Foot plant is the large, woody, and partially exposed tuber. The Tubercle-covered tuber resembles an elephant’s foot or a tortoiseshell, which explains the plant’s other popular names. The tuber can reach up to 3 feet (1 m) in diameter. The tuber acts as an active water-storing structure, which is an essential function for the plant when growing in its native South Africa climate.
  • From the top of the caudex, there is one or several thin vining stems that grow heart-shaped leaves all along their length.
  • When provided with the ideal growing conditions, the plants can reach up to 4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 m) long.
  • During late fall or early winter, Elephant’s Foot plants bloom. The flowers they grow are pale greenish-yellow and star-shaped.

Growing Elephant’s Foot

Although Elephant’s Foot plants seem really odd and unique, growing and caring for them is really easy because they have pretty specific needs like most tropicals and succulents. They come from a place with warm temperatures and dry and well-draining soil. So, the better you can mimic these conditions when growing them, the happier and healthier the plants will be.

Elephant’s Foot plants thrive in warm climates and prefer hot temperatures. You should keep your Elephant’s Foot plant at around 65°F (18°C) minimum for it to thrive. If you live in an area with a colder climate or where temperatures during winter go under 65°F (18°C), you should keep your plant indoors.

Elephant’s Foot plants love sunny spots where they get direct bright light. They can also adapt to partial sun. Ideally, keep your Elephant’s Foot plant in a place where it gets enough sun in the morning and partial shade in the afternoon. It would be best if you can find a spot where the tuber stays shaded, and the vines of the plant can reach into brighter light.

Elephant's Foot
Elephant’s Foot

Your Elephant’s Foot plant will also need some feeding to grow healthy and to live up to seventy years. We recommend using a balanced fertilizer at one-quarter strength about once a month when the plant isn’t dormant.

We’ve already mentioned the fact that Elephant’s Foot plants go into a dormant period once or even several times a year. Before the dormancy period, you’ll notice that your plant’s vines turn a bit yellow and die back. This is the time when the plant needs to be watered less and needs no more fertilizer. When the vines are thoroughly dry, it means that the plant has officially gone dormant, which is when you need to cut back on water completely and move your Elephant’s Foot plant to a cool spot.

How to Plant Elephant’s Foot

Elephant’s Foot plants are best grown indoors if they are not in their native climate in South Africa. So, if the area you live in doesn’t provide similar conditions, it’s best to plant your Elephant’s Foot plant in containers that you can keep or move indoors during the cold months.

The roots of these plants aren’t deep, meaning that you can plant them in shallow pots filled with porous, well-draining potting soil. Why is it necessary to use well-draining potting soil? Elephant’s Foot plants don’t like wet feet and are prone to root rot. Thus, you need to provide your plant with well-draining soil that allows the water to pass through it.

If you plant your Elephant’s Foot plant outdoors, remember its lighting requirements so that you choose a spot in your garden where its vines get enough sunlight to grow happy and healthy.

Dioscorea elephantipes 10 seeds, From Amazon

Watering Elephant’s Foot

Overwatering is the biggest threat to Elephant’s Foot plants, especially when they are taking naps during the dormant period. As mentioned above, the Elephant’s Foot plants don’t like wet feet and are susceptible to root rot.

In general, Elephant’s Foot plants are drought-resistant. So, it’s better not to water your plant enough than to overwater it.

How to make sure you are not overwatering your Elephant’s Foot plant? There isn’t a set schedule for when to water your Elephant’s Foot plant. This schedule can depend on the climate you live in, the amount of light it gets, and the season. So, you can use the “soak and dry” method to know when to water your plant again. In other words, you need to allow the soil in the container to almost completely dry out between waterings. Another important thing to keep in mind is to never water the plant directly on the tuber. Water it around the edges of the pot you are growing it in.

Important to remember: When the plant goes dormant, cut back on water completely.

Propagating Elephant’s Foot

Propagating Elephant’s Foot plants isn’t that difficult but can take some time (six months or more). Elephant’s Foot plants propagate via seeds. Propagation from cuttings is not an option with these plants.

When you collect the seeds, make sure that the seed capsule is completely dry. After you collect the seeds, sow them in a sowing mix, preferably mixed with sand, a few cm’s deep. Keep the soil constantly moist and place it in a warm place where temperatures are around 77-86°F (25-30 °C).

It can take up to six months or longer before germination occurs. So be patient with your new plant!

In Conclusion

Are you looking for a weird but unique and beautiful plant to add to your collection? An Elephant’s Foot succulent is a great option! These plants are generally easy to grow and care for, and they can be excellent focal points in any indoor or outdoor environment, as long as you provide them with plenty of love and protect them from cold temperatures.

Are you growing Elephant’s Foot plants? Share your experience in the comments!

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Miruna Secuianu

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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