Species of the Week

This week you have the opportunity to get to know the African Potato, the bulb with medicinal uses

Common name: African Potato

Species: Hypoxis hemerocallidea

Kingdom: Plantae

Phylum: Angiosperms

Class: Monocots

Order:   Asparagates

Family: Hypoxidaceae

Genus: Hypoxis

Plant Attributes:

Plant Type: Bulb

Soil type: Loam

Flowering season: Early Summer, Late Summer

PH: Acid, Neutral

Flower colour: Yellow

Gardening skill: Easy

Size: Small to medium


  • Perennial
  • Tuberous perennial with linear to broadly lance-shaped, slightly hairy leaves which are arranged one above the other to form 3 groups spreading outwards from the center of the plant.
  • The underground tuberous rootstock or corm, is hard, fleshy, mucilaginous and dark brown or black on the outside and yellow-orange inside when freshly cut.
  • Sliced corms, when exposed to the atmosphere, turn black with oxidation.
  • Bears bright yellow star-shaped flowers on long slender stalks.
  • The fruit is a capsule that splits across its diameter to expose the small black seeds.
  • Dies back in winter.


Geographic Range and Habitat

African Potato can be found in these countries: Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland and South Africa. And it is normally observed in short grassland on sandy soils and on rocky hillsides.

Conservation Status

H. hemerocallidea is not listed as a threatened plant in the Red Data plant list. However, the natural grasslands in the urban metropolitan areas are under extreme pressure because of urban sprawl. Many plants, including related species, are also dug up due to their popularity as a medicinal remedy. Since the plants do not re-seed easily, the demand for the tubers may cause the plants in the wild to decline.

Medical Uses

  • African Potato is an immune stimulant containing sterols – increases the body’s natural resistance to disease and is currently being used in South Africa in primary health care as an immune booster for patients with HIV/AIDS.
  • Helps to cope with a strenuous life style and has anti-cancer properties.
  • Infusions of the corm is said to quickly replace lost blood.
  • Treat conditions including diabetes, hemorrhage and prostate problems.
  • Used as emetics to treat dizziness, bladder disorders and insanity.




  • Was widely used in Mozambique during the Civil War (1976-1992) by both soldiers and civilians who lost blood through injuries.
  • It is suggested that the incorrectly used name ‘African Potato’ was introduced by the media in early 1997, when the hype around the plant arose, possibly after the Afrikaans ‘Afrika-patat’, since the tuber could possibly remind one of a patat or sweet potato. However, this is a most inappropriate name, since it is a corm (compressed underground stem, developing vertically) and not a tuber (swollen stem, like the potato, developing horizontally). Furthermore there is no reference in the scientific literature to this name.
  • The genus Hypoxis is large, with 76 species in Africa.
  • The leaves are used to make rope. The leaves and tuber are used as a dye and give a black colour, which is used to blacken floors.
  • The raw products can be toxic and must be used with caution. It is recommended to use a shelf product as a safe alternative.