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MANIHOT esculenta

Image of Manihot esculenta

Felder Rushing



Botanical Name

MANIHOT esculenta

Plant Common Name

Cassava, Manioc, Tapioca Plant, Yuca

General Description

Having many economic uses of its starchy root, cassava has ornate hand-like (palmate) leaves and small, curious flowers lacking petals. This upright, bushy tender tropical perennial with semi-woody stems is native to northern South America in a north-south swath across the Amazon River Basin from the Caribbean Sea to Bolivia. Although a frost-tender plant, it is root hardy in regions with frosty, mild winters and will quickly rejuvenate when soil warms in spring.

The dark green leaves have an overall rounded shape but are palmate, having three to seven deeply cut lobes that look like pointy fingers. The leaf is on a long petiole stem (that is sometimes a pretty red color) that radiates out from the firm main plant stem that is hollow and often inhabited by ants. Throughout the warm tropical months the plant bears bell-shaped white and red-streaked flowers that lack petals. The clusters of flowers are also on long stems that pop out from the main plant stem and are somewhat hidden by the foliage. Seeds are produced and drop to the ground and will germinate, but typically this plant is most easily and more quickly propagated by stem cuttings.

Grow cassava in full sun for fullest growth and vigor in a sandy, moist to quite dry and nutritionally poor soil. It grows faster with soil moisture in the heat of summer, but will manage if lacking; usually growers are more interested in getting a plump rhizome (underground root-like stem) to form. Use cassava as a fast-growing screen or accent in the tropical border or as a root crop in the vegetable garden. Cultivar 'Variegata' is much more highly ornamental with its creamy yellow and green foliage.

There are serious health hazards associated with this plant, for more information about appropriate use and pitfalls in the use of cassava as a food starch, visit: . Note that the Mexican common name of the starchy root is "yuca"; it should not be confused with the botanical plant group of Yucca, with a similar spelling and pronunciation.

The rhizome of cassava contains compounds that must first be removed before human consumption. The skin and underbark of this root must be fully shaved away and the root then boiled at least twice. The uses for the edible, processed cassava root are many: it can be dried and pulverized into flour, eaten like yams, used as a thickening starch or baby powder, as a glue, acetone or postage stamp glue. Tapioca is the pelleted form of the tasteless starch of cassava root.


  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 9

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    8 - 13

  • Sunset Zone

    H1, H2, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Tender Perennial

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    7'-12' / 2.1m - 3.7m

  • Width

    5'-9' / 1.5m - 2.7m

  • Bloom Time

    Late Spring, Summer, Early Fall

  • Native To

    South America, Brazil

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage


  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances


  • Growth Rate


  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant, Average Water

  • Habit


  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest


  • Flower Color

    White, Red

  • Flower Color Modifier

    Bicolor, Striped

  • Fruit Color


  • Foliage Color (Spring)


  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Dark Green

  • Bark Color

    Light Green, Tan

  • Fragrant Flowers


  • Fragrant Fruit


  • Fragrant Foliage


  • Bark or Stem Fragrant


  • Flower Petal Number


  • Repeat Bloomer


  • Showy Fruit


  • Edible Fruit


  • Showy Foliage


  • Foliage Texture


  • Foliage Sheen


  • Evergreen


  • Showy Bark


Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture


  • Usage

    Feature Plant, Herb / Vegetable, Mixed Border, Tropical

  • Sharp or Has Thorns


  • Invasive


  • Self-Sowing