The “African wild potato” (Hypoxis hemerocallidea) first rose to fame ~ or was it infamy ~ in 1997 when our erstwhile minister of health recommended it’s immune strengthening properties to patients with HIV and AIDS. It turns out though that it was misnamed, as it is a corm, which is compressed underground stem, developing vertically and not a tuber, which is a swollen stem, like the potato, developing horizontally.
Back in 2007, it was estimated that at least 62 000 to 170 000 individual bulbs are sold annually in the Witwatersrand markets alone. Land transformation and habitat loss in Gauteng is also a threat to the species.
The plant is extremely popular with both traditional healers and commercial medicinal producers, so smallholders might consider growing it for this trade.
It is a beautiful tuberous perennial, synonymous with the grasslands, where its yellow star-like flowers herald the arrival of spring and summer rains. It is a hardy garden plant and originates from Southern Africa. It occurs in a wide range of habitats, including sandy hills on the margins of dune forests, open, rocky grassland, dry, stony, grassy slopes, mountain slopes and plateaus.
It is a tuberous perennial with straplike leaves and yellow star-shaped flowers. The leaves are up to 400 mm long, neatly arranged one above the other in 3 ranks, broad, stiff and arching outwards with prominent ribs and tapering towards the tips. The lower surface of the leaves is densely hairy with white hairs. Leaves appear above ground in spring before the flowers. It flowers from very early spring to midsummer i.e. August to April. Seeds are hard, black, smooth and glossy. The fruit is a capsule that splits across its diameter to expose the small black seeds.
Hypoxis hemerocallidea arises from a large dark brown corm which is covered with bristly hairs. The corm is bright yellow when freshly cut and has an unpleasant bitter taste.
The plant prefers full sunlight and well-drained soil.
For more about growing these plants get the August edition of the Gauteng Smallholder magazine, which is being delivered now.

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