By Isaac Hopkins
Giant swamp taro (Cyrtosperma chamissonis) is a native plant of the Philippines that has dozens of varieties thriving on most of the tropical islands in the Pacific. Giant swamp taro is grown and harvested in small patches for its underground tubers, called corms.
Giant swamp taro grows large in the warm, wet tropics of the Pacific. Islanders cultivate some swamp taro, but could grow more. (Photo credit: Global Crop Diversity Trust)
Swamp taro corms are prepared in several ways, from roasting to grating to baking the corm whole. The corm should be eaten or preserved within two days of harvesting, and properly managed gardens can produce them year-round. The young leaves of giant swamp taro are sometimes eaten by islanders as a vegetable, and the stalks produce fiber used in weaving.
Giant swamp taro is more abundant on Pacific atolls than its better-known cousin, the taro (Colocasia esculenta), but it is much less commercially available. Its traditional cultivation is labor intensive and dependent upon a consistently saturated environment, which makes it practical to grow only in small, marshy plots.
Swamp taro is vulnerable to pests and highly perishable, making it not commercially viable. But Atoll farmers often grow giant swamp taro as part of complex polycultures, in the shade of larger trees. This helps the plants grow faster and healthier, and also helps minimize pests and diseases, which often damage swamp taro monocultures.
Researchers consider the potential of giant swamp taro to be largely untapped, partly because it is not often studied by researchers and techniques for improving the plant’s cultivation have not been developed. While the viability of export is very limited, the giant swamp taro may play a key role in feeding the inhabitants of dozens of Pacific islands.
Do you know of programs or institutions that are helping to tap the potential of plants that, like giant swamp taro? Tell us in the comments!
Isaac Hopkins is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.
To read about other indigenous vegetables, see: Soursop: Many Names, Many Flavors, Pomme du Sahel: Hardy, Yet Delicious, Okra: Southern Charm and Resilient on the Farm, and Horned Melon: Fruit, Vegetable, Decoration.