Traditional Roots and Tubers of Sri Lanka

Plant Varieties
Further reading
  Sri Lanka is a country rich in floral diversity and this has a considerable number of edible and non-edible roots and tuber varieties. This important resource is commonly known as ‘yams’. These include roots and tubers indigenous to the country as well as some varieties introduced and naturalised in the country. All these root and tuber plants also had a number of unique characters in cultivation including disease resistance and the ability to flourish in low fertile soils and not much attention is required. The traditional knowledge of the cultivation of these roots and tubers passed on from generation to generation.  
  These edible roots and tubers were an important food source and was a component of the diet of the community in the past. Some of these roots and tubers possess special characters such as certain medicinal values and food qualities which were identified in the time immemorial and passed from generation to generation. In general, these plants are high in proteins, calories, minerals and vitamins. They are low in fats and sugars. This however varies, depending on the varieties.  
Quality in 100 g of root/ tuber Type of root/ tuber
Thunmas ala Hingurala Innala Desala Manioc Sweet Potato
Water (g) 73.1 7.6 74.4 7.0 - -
Calories 97.0 97.9 97.0 13.0 145 120
Proteins (g) 3.1 1.3 1.6 2.0 1.2 1.3
Fat (g) 0.1 0.1 0.1 - 0.3 -
Carbohydrates (mg) 21.1 18.1 22.6 26.0 38.1 28.2
Calcium (mg) 40.0 16.0 10.0 25.0 33 34
Phosphorous (mg) 140.0 31.1 40.0 - 40 50
Iron (mg) 1.7 0.5 0.7 1.0 0.7 1.0
Carotene (mcg) 12.0 - 12.0 - - 400
Thiamine (mg) 90.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 0.06 0.10
Ribo (pg) 30.0 30.0 10.0 30.0 03.0 0.05
Thiacene (mg) 0.4 0.4 0.2 1.0 0.03 0.05
Vitamin (mg) - 1.00 17.0 5.0 360 200
  Although these traditional roots and tubers were consumed by the people in the past, the role of those as a food declined in the recent times. This was a result of the increased cultivation of modern ‘developed’ crop varieties, increased consumption of potatoes and the open economy. Most of the traditional roots and varieties were neglected and the cultivation was restricted to few individuals who had realised the uses and importance of those. The Community Development Centre (CDC) identified a handful of farmers who cultivated these plant varieties and was able to revive the cultivation of these.  
   Plant Varieties  
  The Community Development Centre, working on the cultivation of traditional roots and tuber species is able to identify 56 roots and tuber species through careful studies. Over 30 varieties of these are selected for cultivation. The following table gives a list of these varieties, growth period, special characters etc. (This table will be updated soon)  
Name of the variety Special qualities Growth time Photos
1 Ada dandina    
2 Artichoke    


3 Ath ala (Dioscrea alata)      
4 Athu ala (Dioscrea alata)      
5 Binara (Dioscrea spp.)      
6 Butsarana (red) (Canna discolor)



7 Dandina ala (Dioscrea alata)    
8 Dehi ala (Dioscrea alata)      
9 Engili ala, Mahata (Dioscorea alata)    
10 Engili ala, Podi  (Dioscorea alata)    
11 Esuma ala (Dioscrea alata)      
12 Gahala (Colocasia esculenta)      
13 Gorok ala (Dioscrea spp)      
14 Gotu ala (Dioscrea spp)      
15 Heen hingurala (Dioscrea spp)      
16 Hingurala (Dioscrea spp.)    
17 Hirithala (Dioscrea spp)      
18 Hulankeeriya (Maranta arundinacea)    
19 Innala (Solenostemon rotundifolius)      
20 Isuru desala (Colocasia spp.)      
21 Jawa ala (Dioscrea spp.)      
22 Kaberi ala (Dioscrea spp.)      
23 Kadira ala (Dioscrea spp.)      
24 Kaha ala (Colocasia spp.)      
25 Kahata angala (Dioscrea spp.)


26 Kalu desala (Colocasia spp.)      
27 Katu ala (Dioscorea entaphylla)      
28 Kidaran (Arisaema leschenaultia)    
29 Kiri ala (Colocasia spp.)    
30 Kirikondol (Dioscorea spp)      
31 Kiriingala (Dioscorea spp)      
32 Kiriwelwila (Dioscorea spp)      
33 Kola kana ala (Colocasia spp.)      
34 Kommbu ala (Dioscorea spp)      
35 Kukul ala (Dioscorea spp)      
36 Kukul ala (Colocasia spp)      
37 Maha hingurala (Dioscorea spp)      
38 Maw ala (Dioscorea spp)      
39 Naat ala (Dioscrea alata)    
40 Paththara ala (Dioscrea alata)    
41 Peni ala (Dioscrea alata)      
42 Pittu ala (Dioscrea alata)      
43 Raja ala (Dioscrea alata)      
44 Raja walli (Dioscrea spp)      
45 Rathangala (Dioscrea spp)      
46 Rel burulla (Alocasia spp)      
47 Rewul ala (red) (Dioscrea spp)      
48 Rewul ala (white) (Rotunda spp)      
49 Saw kenda (Dioscrea spp)      
50 Seeruwalli (Dioscrea spp)      
51 Sevel ala (Dioscrea spp.)    
52 Sweet potato (Batala)(Ipomoea batatas)      
53 Theeruwalli (Dioscrea spp)      
54 Thunmas (Colocasia spp)      
55 Udala (Dioscrea bulbifera)      
56 Yakutala (Dioscrea spp)      
   Further reading  
  Following resources provide further details of the traditional roots and tubers of Sri Lanka and the role of the Community Development Centre in conserving this vital resource.  

CDC publications
  Click here for a list of CDC publications
Journal Articles
  (To be updated soon)
Newspaper articles
1. Be Our Partner: (The Nation, 18-05-2008) (PDF file, 1.03 MB)
2. Friends of Lanka conserve indigenous food crops (Sunday Observer, 10-06-2007)
Case studies

Popularization of traditional root and tuber crops focusing on biodiversity conservation (a Case Study by UNDP GEF/SGP) Download PDF file (125kb)


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Last updated: 30 September, 2008