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Yacon or Bolivian Sunroot

Earliest_april_08_024_copyWant to grow something that isn't the same thing you always grow? If you live in a location with a relatively mild winter, here is an idea. The plant species is Polymnia sonchifolia, common names yacon or Bolivian sunroot. It is a plant featured in the book Lost Crops of the Incas--and in my book Golden Gate Gardening (see cover in column at right). It is relatively uncommon outside of the Andes, but not lost, by any means. I've been growing this plant since the late 80s. The photo at left shows a crown with the rhizomes at the center top, and the tuberous roots hanging off of them. You plant the rhizomes, then in winter or early spring, dig them up, cut off and eat the tuberous roots that have formed under them, then replant the rhizomes.

October_07_049_copy In summer the plants grow. They have really big, furry leaves, arranged in pairs. The leaf stems (petioles) are winged--that is the leaf blade continues right down the sides of the leaf stems. And the plants are very tall. What I have read about them says they can reach 6 feet, but mine are usually rather taller than that, maybe 8 feet, maybe more.

October_07_046_copy These aren't quite full grown. In about late October or in November, they are topped with rather small orange daisies. Seems like a lot of plant for those tiny flowers, but of course the real reproduction is going on underground, where the rhizomes are multiplying.

So what does it taste like? The edible tuberous roots are crisp, juicy, and mildly to very sweet. Sort of like jicama, but juicier. I like to eat them raw myself, though there are those who advocate cooking them. Might try it.

Mid_april_2008_051_copy To eat them raw, I just take a potato peeler to them, then wash and slice them. They are good just as is (shown on the plate with some also delicious homegrown sugar snap peas) or in a salad in place of jicama. One I like has red onion rings marinated in orange juice vinaigrette, sliced orange, Bolivian sunroot, avocado, dressed with the vinaigrette, served on a bed of lettuce leaves.

You can get starts of this crop through and also through


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Pam Peirce

Yes, I just taught a class in which an Ecuadorian had not heard of it either, and when I passed samples to taste, said he had never tasted it. Perhaps it is originally from Peru, but is grown throughout the region. I have spoken to an Argentinian who ate nicely sliced pieces as an appetizer at a banquet there. Another name for it is yacon, a name probably known in South America. In Latin, it is Polymnia sonchifolia, or, previously, Polymnia edulis.

The Wikipedia article on yacon gives the English synonym of "Peruvian ground apple," and also says it is called "jicama" in Ecuador. (Jicama is the common name usually reserved for a root crop in the bean family, whereas yacon is more closely related to sunflower.)

By the way, I have added my recipe for a salad including the root that is described in the post above to the new, 2010, edition of Golden Gate Gardening.

I'd be interested to know what you find when you go to Bolivia!


i am bolivian and i never heard of sunroot and i would like to know the name in spanish to ask for it when i go there. thank you!

Pam Peirce

Hi Patricia and any other readers,

We have a number of sunroot plants potted up at the City College Horticulture Department. We will be having a plant sale on May 5th if you can come by then. If not, be in touch and we can arrange to sell you some.

Patricia E. McKeough

To Whom It May Concern:
I would love to try growing Polymnia Sonchifolia but am unable to find where to buy it. Would you be able to help me?
Patricia E. McKeough



i just wanted to thank you for your amazing book golden gate gardening. i grew up gardening with my mother but somehow never kept it up during the first decade out of the nest. now, in a new place with a great, sunny terrace, i've been bitten by the bug and spend every day out there. i got your book last week and it has been invaluable for helping me figure out how to deal with san francisco's climate. i love it so much!

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