Dioscorea alata has a winter dormant period when the stems die back to the ground. After dormancy, the underground tubers give rise to stems which can quickly grow to 30 feet long. Dioscorea alata is sometimes grown in gardens for its ornamental value.
The color of purple varieties is due to various anthocyanin pigments. The pigments are water-soluble, and have been proposed as possible food coloring agents. Uncultivated forms however are reported to be bitter and even poisonous.