Ullucus tuberosus (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Ullucus tuberosus Lozano

Family: Basellaceae


Basella tuberosa (Lozano) Kunth, Melloca tuberosa (Lozano) Lindley, Ullucus kunthii Moquin-Tandon.

Vernacular names

  • Ulluco, papa lisa, ruba (En). Olloco, melloco, timbos (Sp, South America).


In the South American Andes, cultivated from Venezuela to Argentina; the wild ancestor occurs from central Peru to northern Argentina and is sometimes considered a separate species ( Ullucus aborigineus Brücher). Occasionally, U. tuberosus is cultivated elsewhere.


The tubers are an ancient food of the Andes, consumed fresh like boiled potatoes in stews or they are dried (chuña) and ground into flour and consumed whenever needed. The green parts can be used as a vegetable.


Twining, procumbent, fleshy, glabrous herb, 20-30(-60) cm tall with ridged stems 5-7 cm in diameter; wild forms are more creeping with branches up to several m long producing much smaller tubers. Tubers are normally formed underground at the end of rhizomes, occasionally also in leaf axils aboveground on stolons; they resemble small potatoes, cylindrical, ellipsoidal or globose with shallow eyes, 4-6 cm in diameter, smooth, soft-skinned, white, orange, yellow, red or green, or mixed-coloured, flesh yellowish and mucilaginous. Leaves alternate, fleshy, simple; petiole erect, grooved; blade cordate to reniform, 5-20 cm × 5-12 cm, shiny. Inflorescence an axillary raceme, but in cultivation flowering is rare; flowers bisexual, star-shaped, small, with 2 circular red sepals and a 5-lobed, small, green-yellow corolla. Fruit a subglobose capsule, 2-2.5 mm long, 1-seeded, indehiscent.

U. tuberosus occurs in high, wet, mountain regions, at altitudes of 2000-3300 m. Propagation is from small tubers, planted in rows 80-100 cm apart and 40-60 cm in the row. Tubers mature in about 4-6 months, normally at a daylength of about 12 hours. Diseases and pests are not serious. Yields may amount to 5-9 t/ha. On a fresh weight basis the tubers contain 10-14% carbohydrates and 1% protein. Many people consider ulluco tubers or chuña a delicacy, also outside its region of origin. Possibly, it is of interest for the cooler parts of the tropical highlands of South-East Asia.

Selected sources

10, 11, 28, 31, 33, 40, 43, 45, 54, 72.


L.E. Groen, J.S. Siemonsma & P.C.M. Jansen