How to Grow an Elephant Ear Plant?
Elephant Ear Plant: Colocasia is a genus of flowering plants in the family Araceae, native to southeastern Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Some species are widely cultivated and naturalized in other tropical and subtropical regions. Common names include tarul, karkala ko ganu, elephant-ear, taro, cocoyam, dasheen, aloochi paane, saru, hembu, chamadhumpa/chamagadda in Telugu, shavige gadde, and eddoe. Elephant-ear and cocoyam are also used for some other large-leaved genera in the Araceae, notably Xanthosoma and Caladium. The generic name is derived from the ancient Greek word kolokasion, which in the Greek botanist Dioscorides (1st century AD) meant the edible roots of both Colocasia esculenta and Nelumbo nucifera. It is thought that the edible roots of Colocasia esculenta have been cultivated in Asia for more than ten thousand years. The species Colocasia esculenta is an invasive species in wetlands along the American Gulf Coast, where it threatens to displace native wetland plants.
They are herbaceous perennial plants with a large corm on or just below the ground surface. The leaves are large to very large, 20–150 cm (7.9–59.1 in) long, with a sagittate shape. The elephant’s-ear plant gets its name from the leaves, which are shaped like a large ear or shield. The plant reproduces mostly by means of rhizomes (tubers, corms), but it also produces “clusters of two to five fragrant inflorescences in the leaf axils”. Like other members of the family, the plant contains an irritant which causes intense discomfort to the lips, mouth, and throat. This acridity is caused in part by microscopic needle-like raphides of calcium oxalate monohydrate and in part by another chemical, probably a protease. The acridity helps to naturally deter herbivores from eating it. It must be processed by cooking, soaking or fermenting – sometimes along with an acid (lime or tamarind) – before being eaten.
Elephant Ear Plant Care
High drama and bold texture are the signature benefits of showcasing alocasias in a garden or container. Growing elephant ears is simple — they like filtered sun or shade and rich, moist soil. Elephant ear plants, which are grown from tuberous rhizomes, can reach impressive sizes quickly.
In warm climates, similar to their native humid and tropical Southeast Asia, elephant ears will grow as perennials. In cooler areas, they will need to be replanted each year.
How climate affects elephant ears:
- Fully hardy in Zones 9 to 11
- Many are proving root-hardy in Zone 8 and a very few in Zone 7
- Most can endure temperatures down to 30 degrees
- Will go dormant with a frost or temperatures below 45
In zones colder than 8, or with less hardy alocasias, the tuberous rhizomes can be stored over winter.
After a frost, do the following:
- Cut back foliage
- Dig up rhizomes
- Allow drying for a few days
- Store in an open container with peat moss or dry potting soil barely covering the rhizome
- Keep them cool (45 to 55 degrees), and dry
For winter protection outdoors in Zone 8 (and Zone 7 if you’re feeling lucky), cover the base of the plant with four to 12 inches of mulch.
Most alocasias prefer filtered sun or shade, but some tolerate full sun. In general, green types can take higher light levels; dark-leaved ones need shade.
Alocasias need rich soil that is moist (not saturated) but well-drained. No elephant ear likes wet feet (the big-leaved plants you see in water gardens are the close cousins colocasias, also sometimes called elephant ears), though a few are tolerant of wet conditions. A general rule is big, green alocasias are practically indestructible and can tolerate variable moisture conditions; dark-leaved types will suffer if over watered and can stay dry for several days.
To prevent disease problems, water alocasias in the morning so they go into the night dry. If possible, water from below at the root zone rather than from above, to keep water off the leaves.
Alocasias are not heavy feeders. Apply a slow-release fertilizer at planting time; in a pot, a tablespoon per six-inch pot is plenty; use incrementally more for larger containers. If foliage shows yellowing, it’s probably a micronutrient deficiency. A fertilizer with micronutrients can be applied, or sprinkle Epsom salts around the base of each plant on a monthly basis.
Elephant Ear Plant Types
Their rapid growth creates a show even during a short growing season, making them worthy as one-shot annuals of benefit to northern gardeners. But among the 70 or so species and their cultivars are alocasias small, medium and large, in leaf shapes from wide hearts to slim arrowheads, with colorful veining and textures from slick and glossy to thick and waxy. While their use in gardens has given them their current cachet, many also make good houseplants.
COLOCASIA ESCULENTA ILLUSTRIS
This variety grows three to five feet tall in the garden. Its leaves have dramatic green veining against a black background. Illustris loves wet conditions and is also adaptable as a houseplant.
Elephant Ear Plant Indoors
Alocasia (a.k.a. elephant ear or African mask plant) is big-leafed tropical that’s usually grown as an outdoor summer plant around here. However, it’ll also work as a potted plant that you can grow inside or use as a houseplant in cold weather and then move outside in summer.
The leaves won’t get quite as big inside in a pot as outside in the ground, but alocasia is still an impressive specimen.
The plant grows from a bulb. To grow it as a houseplant, start with a large pot (14- to 18-inch would be good), fill it about three-quarters full with a light-weight potting mix, and plant the bulb with the root side down about 8 inches deep.
A bright spot is ideal, although the plant also will grow in medium indoor light. If you’ve got a really bright window with direct sun and notice that the leaves are bleaching in color or getting brown around the edges, move to a slightly dimmer spot.
If anything’s going to go wrong, it’ll be overwatering. Don’t use heavy potting soil and consider lightening what you do use with a little extra perlite, coarse sand or coir.
If you’re using a pot without holes, be careful not to water so much that the soil becomes soggy. Otherwise, place a saucer under a pot with drainage holes so you don’t water your carpet! The goal is to keep the soil consistently damp but never bone dry or soggy.
How To Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs
How to Plant Elephant Ear Tubers:
- Plant elephant ear bulbs outside after all danger of frost have passed and daytime temperatures remain above 70 degrees. Elephant Ears are tropical plants and cannot tolerate any frost. They only emerge when the soil is warm.
- Select a location in full sun or part sun with a good, rich, moist, organic soil.
- Prepare the bed for elephant ears by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Then, level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
- Most elephant ear plants respond well to soils amended with organic matter. Compost is a wonderful form of organic matter with a good balance of nutrients and an ideal pH level, and it can be added to your planting area at any time. If compost is not available, top dress the soil after planting with 1-2 inches of organic mulch, which will begin to breakdown into compost. After the growing season, a soil test will indicate what soil amendments are needed for the following season.
- Plant elephant ear bulbs 2-4 feet apart. Plant so the growing tip is up.
- Dig a hole so that the top of the bulb is 4 inches deeper than the soil line. Cover with 4 inches of soil.
- Tubers may be started inside 6-8 weeks before all danger of frost has passed. Plant the tubers individually in 6-inch pots using a good quality potting soil or seed starting soil. They require a warm soil in order to emerge so consider using a heat mat.