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10/27/17- Climbing Yams

By Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist

It is officially fall, ya’ll! October is almost gone and Thanksgiving will be here before you know it. Many of us will be sitting down to a whopping dinner comprised of turkey, green bean casserole, yams and a whole lot more! Speaking of yams, I could not think of a more appropriate time to talk about climbing yams, an invasive species that has a large impact on our area. DISCLAIMER: these are not your grand mamma’s yams!

Arriving from (you guessed it) Asia in the early 1800s, climbing yams spread like wildfire throughout the region. Most people blame naïve gardeners for their expansion, who ultimately planted the vine as an ornamental probably because the plant itself has very unique characteristics. For one, the leaf of the vine is heart/triangle shaped with smooth margins. They are dark green but will turn a brilliant yellow in the fall. The vine itself can cover trees and shrubs, reaching heights of nearly 65 feet! Although interesting, this was not the characteristic that cranked most gardener’s tractor. It was the dangling yams that hung from the vine! Those yams amazed gardeners and became the “trendy” species to grow. Little did they know, as soon as the yams dropped off onto the ground, a whole new vine would be born. This continued for years and years and now the species is deemed an invasive species. Water and Air yams are found mostly in Florida while Chinese yams extend throughout the southeast region of the United States. Chinese yams are often referred to as Cinnamon vine because of the cinnamon fragrance the yam gives off. The vine and leaves will die back in the winter, but this does not hinder its stamina. Chinese yams can cover a small tree in just ONE year. New vines use old vines as a ladder, thus creating a vicious cycle of cinnamon smelling yams. Today, Chinese yams are used for people experiencing stomach and spleen issues. It is also used in many traditional Chinese medicines as well.

Thanks to a few gardeners that were intrigued by a yam, Chinese yams are now a part of our forests here in Alabama. Although unique and intriguing, this species will choke out native vegetation quick, fast and in a hurry! It is best to get rid of this species if you see it on your property. Unless you are experiencing stomach/spleen issues, I would stick to eating the yams served at thanksgiving, not the ones you might find in the woods.

By: Red Clay

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