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Some 3 billion people in the world live outside the cash economy in the world’s poorest nations. Food security and regular supply are their daily concerns. Chronic malnutrition is a leading cause of death and disease for them. Young children are amongst the most affected. One child every 5-10 seconds dies from undernutrition. Vitamin A deficiency causes night blindness for someone every minute. Most people in tropical and subtropical countries are iron deficient.

Our goal is to provide information that enables people to choose the right plant for their environment, to give them stable food production and a greater choice of plants to enrich their diets and improve their nutritional wellbeing.

The plant fact sheets listed in this collection are only a small portion of those available from FPI.   Please check your plant inquiries in the ECHO Search and reference the FPI plant database for further information.

Most of the plants selected to list here are further described in country-specific publications by Food Plant Solutions (FPS in the Search).


8000 Starchy Staples

7000 Legumes

6000 Leafy Greens

5000 Fruits

4000 Vegetables

3000 Nuts, Seeds, Herbs, and other foods


311 Issues in this Publication (Showing issues - 8000)

Arundo donax - Biblical Reed, Giant Reed


Edible parts : Shoots, roots

A large grass. It grows 3.7-4.5 m tall and 1.2-1.8 m wide. It forms clumps. It has rhizomes. The stems are like bamboo. They can be 6 m tall. The leaves are drooping and grey-green. They are 60 cm long. They have thick joints and slender stems. The flower plumes are feathery and purple at first but white later. They grow on second year stems in mild climates.

Dactyloctenium aegyptium - Comb fringe grass

Starchy Staple

Edible portion : Seeds, Cereal, Rhizome, Root

An annual grass. The stems are slender. They can lie along the ground. These can form roots at the nodes. They can have runners and form mats. It is 15-60 cm high. The edges of the leaf sheaths have small hairs. The leaf blades are flat and 5-20 cm long by 0.2-0.6 cm wide. The surfaces are lumpy/hairy. It tapers to the tip. The flowers spread like fingers on a hand. There are 2-9 flower stalks. They are long and narrow. They often spread out horizontally. The spikes are on one side of the stalk. The tip is bare. The seed grains are about 1 mm across.

Hordeum vulgare - Barley

Starchy Staple

Edible portion : Seeds, Cereal, Seeds - Tea

An erect annual grass. It grows 80-120 cm tall. The nodes are solid and the internodes are hollow. The leaves are narrow.  There are 5-10 leaves. They are produced alternately on opposite sides of the stem at the nodes. The leaves are narrowly sword shaped and 5-40 cm long by 0.5-1.5 cm wide. The flowers are greenish. Flowers have long awns. The fruit is a grain. It is oval and narrow. There are a range of named cultivated varieties.

Ipomoea batatas - Sweet Potato

Starchy Staple

Edible portion : Tuber, Root, Leaves, Vegetable

This is a root crop which produces long creeping vines. The leaves are carried singly along the vine. Leaves can vary considerably from divided like fingers on a hand to being entire and rounded or heart shaped. At the end of the vine, trumpet shaped flowers grow. They are purple. Under the ground fattened tubers are produced. There are a large number of varieties which vary in leaf shape and colour, tuber shape, colour, texture and in several other ways.

Manihot esculenta - Cassava

Starchy Staple

Edible portion : Root, Leaves, Flowers, Vegetable

A plant which can re-grow year after year from the thickened roots. It has several stems. The stems are woody and have some branches. Plants grow up to 2 or 3 metres high. Stalks have distinct scars where leaves have fallen. The leaves tend to be near the ends of branches. The leaves are divided like the fingers on a hand. The leaves have long leaf stalks. The leaves have 3-7 long lobes which can be 20 cm long. These are widest about 1/3 of the distance from the tip and taper towards the base. The colour varies. It produces several long tubers. These can be 50 cm long by 10 cm across. The flowers are on short stalks around a central stalk. They are produced near the ends of branches. The female flowers are near the base of the flower stalk and the male flowers higher up.

Colocasia esculenta - Taro

Starchy Staple

Edible portion : Corm, Leaves, Stalks, Vegetable, Root, Flowers

This plant has large flat leaves on the end of upright leaf stalks. It grows up to 1 m high. The leaf stalk or petiole joins the leaf towards the centre of the leaf. The leaves are 20-50 cm long. Near the ground a thickened rounded corm is produced. Around this plant their is normally a ring of small plants called suckers. Many different varieties occur. If left to maturity, a lily type flower is produced in the centre of the plant. It has a spathe 15-30 cm long which is rolled inwards. The flowers are yellow and fused along the stalk. There are many named cultivated varieties.

Taro comes in two basic forms. The Dasheen type Colocasia esculenta var. esculenta and Colocasia esculenta var. antiquorum or the Eddoe type. The basic difference is the adaptation of the Eddoe type to storage and survival in seasonally dry places, while the dasheen type needs to be maintained in a more or less continuously growing vegetative stage. These are now recognised as separate species names.

Amorphophallus paeoniifolius - Elephant foot yam

Starchy staples/vegetable

Edible parts - Tuber, Roots, Corm, Leaves, Leaf stalks, Vegetable

A taro family plant but with a very divided leaf. It grows to 0.75-1 m high. It is a herbaceous plant with rough and mottled leaf stalks. It has a straight stem and the leaf is divided into leaflets. The leaves can be 1 m in width. The leaves usually come singly from the ground. The leaf blades are divided into many lobes. The leaflets can be 3-35 cm long and 2-13 cm wide. The flower stalk can be 3-20 cm long. The bract around the flower is bell shaped and fluted. It can be 60 cm across. The edge is curved back and wavy. The flower is dull purple and up to 30 cm across. It can be 70 cm long. The flower gives of a bad smell like rotting meat and this attracts flies. The flower only develops after the leaves have died off. The leaves and corms especially in the wild varieties contain many stinging crystals. Edible kinds have a smooth petiole. It has a large round tuber up to 25 cm across. The large round underground corm produces small corms around the side. These can be 10 cm long. These are usually used for planting.

Asparagus racemosus - Climbing Asparagus

Starchy staples/vegetable

Edible parts - Root, Tubers, Shoots, Fruit, Leaves, Vegetable, Leaves - tea, Flower

A creeping or climbing herb or shrub. It has woody stems. It grows 2 m high. It spreads 2 m wide. The stems are slender and trailing. The leaves are light green and narrow. They are 5 cm long. The flowers are very small. The fruit are small round red berries.

Canna indica - Indian Shot

Starchy staples/vegetables

Edible parts - Fruit, Root, Rhizome, Tubers, Vegetable, Flowers

A broad leafed plant with purple leaf sheaths. It is about 1.5 to 2.5 m high. It grows as a perennial. The stems are in clusters. The leaves are large and smooth. They are dark green but can be reddish in some varieties. The leaf base forms a sheath around the stem. The flowers are red and produced at the top of the plant. The petals are small and red and 4-10 mm wide. The fruit is a 3 celled capsule with black seeds. Underground it has a much branched root or rhizome with fattened sections covered with leaf scars. These are often light red on the outside and yellowish white inside. A clump of 15-20 suckers often develops. These starchy tubers are from 6 cm across to 15 cm long. The shape varies. The seeds are black and hard. They are 5-7 mm across.

Guizotia abyssinica - Niger seed

Starchy Staple

Edible portion : Seeds, Leaves, Oil, Vegetable

An erect branched herb. It grows 30-180 cm tall. The stems are soft and hairy. The leaves are usually carried opposite one another. The leaves do not have stalks and they clasp the stem. The leaves have teeth along the edge and the surface is a little rough. The flower head is made up of many small flowers each capable of producing a seed. The fruit (called seeds) are black angled structures. They are up to 12 mm long. The seed inside is 3.5-5 mm long. There are about 250-300 seeds per gram.