Dioscorea elephantipes, the Turtle Shell, Caudex or Hottentot Bread plant, is native of South Africa. The caudex is the swollen part of the trunk which serves as a water reserve. This tuber can grow more than 80cm wide and high and the stems can reach 2 meters high. It can be cultivated as a bonsai.
The caudex of dioscorea elephantipes is similar to the shell of a turtle, thus its name. As it ages, it tends to curve in. The plant is either male or female. The flowers it produces are insignificant. They are small, green whitish and unscented. Long stems emerge from the center of the caudex and tend to grow around objects. The leaves are dark green and shaped like hearts. The plant is unpredictable and may go in dormancy whenever it wants.
Hardiness zones 10-11 (1ºC/35ºF, 4ºC/40ºF) in winter. Dioscorea elephantipes is not a rustic plant. It weakens with temperatures below 5ºC. It is found in both tropical and tempered climates, but ideal conditions require a semi-desertic environment.
The soil for this plant must be fresh and well-drained. Full sun can be too strong for it. Its water needs are ordinary. Its caudex permits it to survive for a long time without water. If the plant goes into dormancy, considerably reduce watering. Don’t wet the caudex.