*Poa [Proto Polynesian]
Dioscorea sp., "Fragrant yam" (Dioscoreaceae).
From PROTO POLYNESIAN *poa, "Species of yam with discernable odour".

Proto Polynesian: *Poa
Tongan: Poa (Dioscorea sp., "Kind of yam with a fishy smell", Dioscoreaceae)
Niuean: Ufi poa (Dioscorea sp., "A yam variety with long, thick fibres and purple flesh".)
Samoan: Poa (Dioscorea sp., probably a cultivar of D. alata, "Kind of yam with fragrant odour", Dioscoreaceae)
Rennellese: Poa (Dioscorea sp., "Kind of wild yam", Dioscoreaceae)
Maori: Poa ("Food"); also Poapoa (Parsonia heterophylla, "NZ Jasmine", Apocynaceae)

Uhi 1
Dioscorea alata (uhi) - probably not the Poa cultivar
(Climbing a tree on University of Hawaii campus, Mānoa, Honolulu)
Uhi 2
Dioscorea alata (uhi) - but unlikely to be the Poa variety
(In a home garden in Pāhoa, Island of Hawai'i)

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: This page will be revised and updated when more information comes to hand.

The true yams, members of the family Dioscoriaceae, are significant food crops throughout the tropical Pacific, staples in some places and with more specialized or occasional use in others. There is general information about these plants on the page for *qufi, the reconstructed Proto-Polynesian word for Dioscorea alata, the generally most esteemed species of yam. *Qufi has reflexes retaining the meaning of the original word in most Polynesian languages, including Māori.

In Tonga and Samoa, the term poa is applied to a particular cultivar of ufi, Dioscorea alata. The botanist Erling Christofersen singled it out for special mention in his Flowering Plants of Samoa, p. 53:

Ufi poa. By one informant regarded as "the best ufi in Samoa." There are two variations:
ufi poa ula (red tubers) and uji fioa sina (white tubers, probably the same as ufi poa pa'e pare)

Art Whistler lists ufi poa among the "common or well-known cultivars" of ufi in Samoa (Plants in Samoan Culture, p.21).

The term may have found its way to Aotearoa as a general word for food, and, remembering the vine-like chracteristics of the original and the fragrance associated with it, been applied also, in reduplicated form, to the "New Zealand jasmine", Parsonia heterophylla, definitely not a food plant, but its flowers were reputed to have medicinal properties.

We have illustrated this page with pictures of Hawaiian uhi (yam) cultivars, and the poapoa from Aotearoa, pending our getting photographs of the poa variety itself -- they will probably look very similar to the Hawaiian plants, but we don't know for sure. Meanwhile, watch this space, or, better, send us a photograph of the poa itself!

Parsonsia heterophylla - Poapoa
(Aotearoa, Photo (c) Wayne Bennett, NZPCN)
Juvenile form of Parsonsia heterophylla - Poapoa
(Aotearoa. Photo (c) Wayne Bennett, NZPCN)
Further information : (See Bibliography and linked pages).
Photographs: (Hawaii: RB; Parsonsia heterophylla, (c) Wayne Bennett, NZPCN.)

Te Mära Reo, c/o Benton Family Trust, "Tumanako", RD 1, Taupiri, Waikato 3791, Aotearoa / New Zealand. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License