East Indian arrowroot (Tacca leontopetaloides), Fiji arrowroot, Indian arrowroot', Polynesian arrowroot, Tacca, Tahiti arrowroot, Williams arrowroot.

Botanical name

Tacca leontopetaloides (L.) Kuntze syn. T. pinnatifida Forst., T. involucrata Schum. and Thonn.



Other names

Kabitsa (Madag.); Katjandong (Indon.); Loki (Polyn.); Lukeh (Mal.); Makmok, Mokmok (Mar. Is.); Masoa (Sam.); Pia (Haw.); Tavolo(s), Tavolo-kabija (Madag.); Vitian (Tah.); Yabia, Yabyaban (Philipp.).


East Indian arrowroot is a perennial herb with a tuberous rhizome, from which a single petiole, 60-90 cm long arises, bearing deeply lobed leaf blades consisting of three main segments, each further divided in a pinnate manner; the blades are about 30 cm across. The inflorescence is borne on a long stalk, also arising from the basal tuber, and is terminated by an umber of small green flowers surrounded by six or more bracts each about 3-4 cm long and numerous thread-like purplish inner bracts. The fruit is an ovoid, smooth, yellowish berry, about 3.5 cm long, with six ribs. Two distinct types have been reported from the Pacific Islands, one producing a single large tuber, the other with a number of smaller (potato-sized) tubers.

Origin and distribution

East Indian arrowroot was introduced into the Pacific Islands from its origin in South-East Asia very early, and was subsequently introduced throughout tropical Asia, tropical Africa and tropical Australia. Its importance has declined; it is not cultivated in Africa and only sporadically elsewhere, though it has persisted throughout its range of early distribution in a wild state.

Cultivation conditions

Tacca leontopetaloides is a tropical plant but there is little precise information on its cultural requirements, though it appears to thrive best on low-lying (up to 200 m), friable soils, particularly near the seashore; weeding is important and partial shade is beneficial.

Planting procedure

Material - propagation is by division of the small tuberous rhizomes which form at the base of the plant and often remain in the soil when the larger ones are harvested.

Field spacing - the tubers are often planted about 15 cm deep at a distance of 45 cm in rows 75-90 cm apart.

Pests and diseases

Few diseases or insect attacks have been recorded from cultivations of East Indian arrowroot as a reserve food crop in the Pacific.

Growth period

In Hawaii, the leaves appear in the early spring and the crop is mature by the end of the summer, approximately 8 months from planting, though under some conditions the crop can take up to 10 1/2 months to reach maturity.

Harvesting and handling

The tuberous rhizomes are ready for harvesting when the leaves begin to wither and fall. They are dug and sometimes stored in pits, but are liable to sprout.

Primary product

Tuberous rhizomes - most plants produce many starchy tubers, similar in appearance to potatoes, usually 10-15 cm in diameter, but they can reach 30 cm on rich soils. They normally weigh from 70 to 340 g but can reach 1 kg. The tubers have eyes, a pale-yellow skin and dull-whitish flesh, and are usually bitter and almost inedible when raw.

Main use

The tubers were in the past a staple foodstuff in Polynesia, and in the 19th century were used as a source of starch rather similar to that of arrowroot, often given in the treatment of dysentery and for feeding infants. In Tahiti, they are used to make 'poi' ('poke' in the Cook Islands), a traditional food which consists of a mixture of fruit pulp and starch, flavoured with vanilla and lemon and cooked in an oven.

Subsidiary uses

Wild plants are regarded as a famine food in parts of West Africa.

Secondary and waste products

In the 19th century the leaves were marketed in Europe for the manufacture of hats.

Special features

The tubers contain 20-30 per cent of starch which can be easily extracted in a pure state and was formerly marketed in Europe and used in the Philippines for breadmaking. An analysis of Tahitian tubers has been given as: water 60.59 per cent; skin 2.5 per cent; starch 30.6 per cent; fibre 6.3 per cent.

An analysis of African tubers on a dry weight basis has been given as: protein 5.1 per cent; ether extract 0.2 per cent; carbohydrate 89.4 per cent; cellulose 2.1 per cent; fibre 8.8 per cent; ash 3.2 per cent; calcium 0.27 per cent; phosphorus 0.2 per cent.

The principal amino acids present in the protein are arginine, glutamic and aspartic acids, leucine, Iysine and valine.
The starch obtained from the tubers is very white and similar in many respects to that of cassava or arrowroot; the grains are simple polyhedrons or semi-hemispheres, with diameters ranging from 8 to 40 microns, average 20 microns. In addition, the tubers contain about 2.2 per cent of a bitter extract, and a bitter principle taccalin has been isolated from the dried tubers.


Starch - the tubers are peeled, grated, and the resultant pulp washed in water several times, finally in a sieve or cloth. The aqueous starch solution is collected and the starch grains allowed to settle out, collected and dried in the sun.

Major influences

The demand for East Indian arrowroot starch has never been high and there seems no prospect of its expansion in the future. In Tahiti it has been largely replaced by cassava starch in the preparation of 'poi'.


ALLEN, R. N. 1929. Photomicrographs of Philippine starches. Philippine
Journal of Science, 38, 251-252.

BATES, W. N. 1963. Root crops. Mechanization of tropical crops, pp. 268-279. London: Temple Press Books, 410 pp.

BURKILL, I. H. 1935. Tacca pinnotifida. A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay peninsula. Vol. II (I-Z), pp. 2118-2119. London: The Crown Agents for the Colonies, 2402 pp.

BUSSON, F. 1965. Taccac�es. Plantes alimentaires de l'ouest Africain: �tude botanique, biologique et chimique, pp. 436-438. Marseille, France: L'Imprimerie Leconte, 568 pp.

EZUMAH, H. 1970. Miscellaneous tuberous crops of Hawaii. Tropical Root and Tuber Crops Tomorrow: Proceedings of the 2nd International Symposium on Tropical Root and Tuber Crops (Hawaii, 1970) (Plucknett, D. L., ed.), Vol. I, pp. 166-171. Honolulu, Hawaii: College of Tropical Agriculture, University of Hawaii, 171 pp. (2 vole).

HAUDICOURT, A. 1942. Les tacca, plantes utiles. R�vue Botanique Appliqu�e et d'Agriculture Tropicale, 22, 76-81.

JUMELLE, H. 1910. Les plantes � arrowroot et � f�cules similaires Tacca pinnatifida. Encyclop�die scientifique: Les plantes � tubercules alimentaires, pp. 243-249. Paris: O. Doin et firs, 372 pp.

MASSAL, E. and BARRAU, J. 1956. Polynesian arrowroot. Food plants of the south sea islands. South Pacific Commission Technical Paper, No. 94, pp. 11-12. Noumea, New Caledonia: South Pacific Commission, 51 pp.

MONTALDO, A. 1972. Pia. Cultivo de ra�ces y tub�rculos tropicales, pp. 254-256. Lima, Peru: Instituto Interamericano de Ciencias Agricolas de la OEA, 284 pp.

PURSEGLOVE, J. W. 1972. Taccaceae. Tropical crops: Monocotyledons 2, pp. 517-518. London: Longman Group Ltd, 607 pp. (2 vols).

RAKOTO-RATSIMAMANGA, A., BOITEAU, P. and MOUTON, M. 1968. Elements de pharmacop�e malagasy, amidons: amidon de Tacca pinnatifida Forst. Bulletin de Madagascar, 18 (268), 735-736.

SPROAT, M. N. 1968. A guide to subsistence agriculture in Micronesia. Agricultural Extension Bulletin, No. 9. Saipan, Mariana Islands, Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands: Division of Agriculture, Department of Resources and Development, 142 pp.

STONE, E. L. 1951. Polynesian arrowroot, 'Makmok'. The agriculture of Arno Atoll, Marshall Islands. Atoll Research Bulletin, No. 6, pp. 24-25. Washington, DC: Pacific Science Board, 46 pp.

WILDEMAN, E. de. 1906. Tacca pinnatifida. Plantes utiles ou int�ressantes du Congo, Vol. 2, pp. 148-151. Bruxelles, Belgium: Veuve Monnom, 268 pp.

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Authors Eric Blazek
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Created March 30, 2006 by Eric Blazek
Modified December 9, 2023 by Felipe Schenone
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