Purple ube yams are the most beautiful roots in the world… though you wouldn’t know it by looking at their exteriors.
I harvested that purple ube yam root from beneath the pollarded sweetgum tree I use as a living yam trellis.
Here’s what I mean about it being the most beautiful root in the world:
That’s just a little corner piece I broke off.
Purple ube yams are the geodes of the plant world.
They’re also used to make some of the most entertainingly colored desserts you can imagine, as I first illustrated in my big post on how to grow yams.
I dedicate a goodly amount of words to yams in both Grow or Die and Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening.
Quit getting them mixed up with sweet potatoes. They’re not sweet potatoes! NO NO NO!
The sweet potato people will tell you this. The truth is out there.
If you’re not growing yams, why not? Purple ube yams in particular are just fun.
Purple ube yam is grown just like the regular white types. Here’s how to grow ’em.
How To Grow Purple Ube Yam
Get Your Starts
First, get yourself a purple ube yam root or a bulbil.
This is the hard part. Try ebay or your local permaculture or gardening group.
If you have a full root, divide it up like this into minisetts. If you have bulbils, you don’t need to cut them up.
Planting Your Yams
Last year I planted my yam pieces into a big pot during the winter, then transplanted them out to my food forest when they sprouted in the spring.
You can also just plant them in place anytime from fall through spring. I plant yam roots or bulbils just an inch or two down. That’s enough to keep the frosts from getting them.
Place yam starts at the base of something they can climb. A tree, a fence, a trellis – anything they can grab. You’ll be surprised at how vigorous the vines can be. You can plant them in a somewhat shady spot and they’ll climb a tree up into the light and help themselves to the sunshine.
Keeping Yams Going
You really don’t need to do much. Just throw some compost on them if you think of it. Water when you remember.
Harvesting Your Yams
Yams usually go dormant in the winter (or freeze down) and that’s the time to start digging. I wait until the second year for bigger yams. That’s right: I plant my yams two years before I hope to eat them.
This really isn’t a big deal. It’s not like they need any care.
Purple ube yam isn’t as vigorous as the yellow or white yams in my experience. The roots are maybe half the size of the monster white ones. Dig carefully. There’s one big root at the base of the vine and it often gets bigger as it goes beneath the surface like an iceberg.
During the first year, your yam vine will produce a few bulbils in the fall. The second year, it will make a lot more. Here’s me harvesting purple ube yam bulbils from a 2+ year old vine:
Purple ube yams are really a marvelous and beautiful crop that’s certain to impress your friends and family.
Now I need to try making that purple dessert…
Thanks a lot for this article, your blog, and the inspiration you give me.
I got some Dioscorea opposita bulbils after reading one of your articles and found some other dioscorea seeds (alata, atropurpurea).
Still have to find this one (and sweet potatoes too like the Okinawa and Murasaki-imo).
Looking forward to reading your “Grow or Die” book when it will be available as a paperback.
Thank you, André – I appreciate it. You’re going to have great success with those yams!
Haven’t figured out until now how to make an ube dessert? In the Philippines, the most popular of all the ube desserts is called, ube halaya. You can search for it on youtube or on google.
Thank you, Siena.
Make ice cream. I make sweet potato + coconut ice cream. I believe you can substitute with Ube and use same recipes. I am interested to plant Ube, where can I buy the rhisome seeds?
Where can I purchase “starts” for ube plants?
I would like to purchase few purple yam for planting. Please let me know from where I can get few.
Let me know if you leave in the Space Coast of Florida, maybe I could help you get your hands on some.
Looking for the bulbils for the purple yam. Where is a good reputable place to purchase these?
In Florida, they’re technically listed as “invasive,” so finding a nursery source is impossible. You’ll have to ask around permaculture and edible landscaping circles. Any good gardening Meetup groups in your area?
Go shopping in the veggie section of an Asian market. There are many, many veggies available that you’ll never see in a regular supermarket. Very inexpensive since you pay by the pound!! Root vegetables you’ve never heard of are a real find. I’m harvesting and planting my bubils right now to give as vines for Christmas. Hundreds and hundreds of them since I planted the first tuber 5 years ago. We call him (the original plant) Seymour from The Little Shop of Horrors because he is a voracious climber and could become a nuisance. I use him and his offspring mostly as my Chia pets because the vine can climb all over anything!
I would like to purchese some purple yams for planting.Please let me no Where I
Can buy them,Thank you in Advance.
I don’t have them anymore, unfortunately. Try looking up local gardening Meetup groups, particularly permaculture groups. Sometimes people have them to share.
[…] you wanting to try hands at yam-growing on any old trellis, there are a couple of good guides here and […]
Are the purple yam, ube, edible when raw?
No, definitely not – the oxalic acid crystals will burn your mouth and close your throat up.
Hello Mr David The Good
We just ordered Dioscorea purple ube yam plants from Ebay, my assoc just transplant them finally!
I enjoyed reading info, this must be long time ago, by any chance, do you any fresh yam for sale, pls let me buy some, I appreciate your responses.
No, I don’t have any for sale. I no longer grow them as we moved outside the US.
[…] Gardening website The Survival Gardener called ube the “geodes of the plant world,” and here are some pretty helpful guidelines to get you […]
David where can I get some slips to plant these yams? I am in North East Florida.
Look up permaculture groups on meetup.com. Also, hit the Mosswood Farm Store in Micanopy and ask for Joe Pierce. He knows where EVERYTHING can be found.
Are you still looking? I’m in Jax and just found vines in our yard.
Hi Lise. If you have any bulbils or tubers I would love to get some from you. I am married to an incredible filipina and it would be a wonderful surprise for her. We already grow many massive Filipino foods in our garden. You can teach me (Steve) at 405-532-9263. Thank you very, very much!
many native* Filipino foods…
You can reach* me…. Good grief….
You have true ube roots? Is it possible to mail some slips. I’m in Monroe, LA I can pay for shipping 🙂
No, as they are an “invasive species” so shouldn’t be mailed.
Can you eat the bulbils or are they only good for replanting?
You can cook and eat them, but they aren’t very big. Better for replanting, at least the little ones I’ve seen.
Where did you move to? Why did you leave Florida ?
I moved to Central America. We left the US because it is going to collapse and we wanted to go someplace with a brighter future.
David , I would think that Ube would absolutely thrive there ! We too watch Washington with trepidation. That being said , my husband’s and part of my family have a 10,000 + years stake in staying here ! LOL
Thanks for the article. But having a hard time finding out for zone 6 growth and where to buy true Purple Ube since there are so many types of purple. Can you send a link. Thanks
They won’t grow that far north. I recommend growing the Chinese Yam instead.
My kingdom for a quarter pound of deep purple Dioscorea Alata yam! A light purple and white yam, not. Yam bulbils, no. Purple sweet potatoes, absolutely not! “Rare purple yam seeds from flowers,” Bulbifera roulette at the speed of sloth.
Florida native, older than Disney World,
David the Meek
where did you get ube for planting?
fun fact: “ube” is actually the Tagalog word for “purple” so calling it a “purple ube yam” is like staying “chai tea”
Nice to know. The common names really don’t carry over from language to language well.
I cannot remember where I got my first starts.
My wife and I have been growing ube for a few years and am finishing a trellis to go over my front walk way. Nothing like using your food (and money maker) to decorate your yard as well. I didn’t plant any this year but the bulbils that fell last year took off on their own so it’s harvest time. Dug up a 10 pounder today! Try replacing your sweet potatoes in your Thanksgiving casserole with ube; it will be quite the conversation at dinner.
How hardy are the Ube plants? What zone do you think?
Probably zone 8. I am trying them now.
I’m in West Central Alabama 8a. I have just gotten three root plants. I’m hoping to do better this time around. Two years ago, I tried and failed. These will be started in a pot in my Bedroom. But some times I accidentally let my stove wood go out. What is the lowest temperature they will tolerate and still survive for Spring planting?
Still looking for true yams for zone 6. Please email me any varieties that grow in zone 6
D. polystachya, the Chinese yam.