Tortoise Plant, a plant of the yam family, from the Cape of Good Hope, also called elephant's foot, these two common names being equivalent to its systematic name, testudinaria elephantipes. While its habit is strikingly unlike that of the yam (dioscorea), it is so close to that in flower and fruit that a description of one will answer for both. (See Yam.) The yam makes an underground, thin-skinned, tuberous root, or rootstock; but in this the same portion is above ground, and very large, while the stem proper is slender; several stems from the same rootstock climb to the height of 20 to 40 ft., throwing off numerous branches, which bear bright green heart-shaped or kidney-shaped leaves. It is often cultivated as a greenhouse climber for its pleasing foliage, and for its curious rootstock; this is hemispherical or nearly globular, and sometimes 3 ft. in diameter; its exterior is covered with a thick corklike substance, which cracks and forms many-sided protuberances, separated by deep fissures, giving the whole much the appearance of the shell of a large tortoise; the brown color and apparently lifeless character of this mass form a striking contrast with the vigor and lively green of the rest of the plant.
The dormant rootstocks as imported from Africa are to all appearance dead, but when placed upon the ground soon throw out small roots from the lower surface, and stems start from the upper surface and grow very rapidly. When not growing, the plant is kept quite dry. It is called in Africa Hottentots' bread, but it is said that the natives do not eat it, though the fleshy interior of the rootstock affords food to baboons and other animals. One or two other species are known, but are not cultivated.
Tortoise Plant (Testudinaria elephantipes).