In the rich soil of river bottoms in Illinois, particularly southward through the state, a plant which is kin to certain tropica] species thrives and blossoms and sets its seeds. This is the wild yam.
Dioscorea villosa L.
June. River bottom woods.
It has a tuberous root which apparently is not used as food. The dried root of one species, however, is used as medicine. The heart-shaped, satiny Leaves are deeply veined and are among the most beautiful leaves to be found in Illinois. They grow from a tough, thin, twining stem which hind.- itself around sturdier plants and climbs and dangles in the deep shadows of the river-bottom forests.
Wild yam in dune is in bloom. It bears sprays of fragrant, cream-colored flowers suggesting those of the cultivated Madeira vine. In autumn the fruits appear in ornamental clusters of angled, winged, oval seeds, artistic in shades of brown.
Wild yam is one of the prominent vines of the river lowland-. In these humid, alluvial haunts many vines seem to thrive. In the habitat of prothonotary warblers and Carolina wrens, of stinging nettle- and pawpaw trees, of flood waters and caked dry soil between floods, the wild yam. Star cucumber, trumpet vine, bittersweet, and wild grape are found. Here in the shadowy bottomlands where the sycamores grow huge and white and hollow and provide sleeping quarters for owls and raccoons and squirrels, the wild yam sends up its tendril- and it- wiry stems. It festoon- itself over the pawpaw tree- and the wahoos and the old horse-weeds of the year before. It is not a high-climbing vine like the grapes and trumpet vines; it stays low and neat and its heart-shaped leaves hold their satiny gleam all Bummer long.