Interested in Elephant Ears?
Are you looking for an interesting tropical plant for that spot in your yard that doesn’t drain well? Or perhaps you’re looking for a striking plant for a container or water garden. Take a look at the many elephant ear varieties available, a group of tropical perennials grown for their large heart-shaped leaves, for both sun or shade.
Elephant ears belong to the family Araceae, as do caladiums, and can either be from the genera Colocasia (Taro) or Alocasia, native to tropical Asia and Pacific islands, or Xanthosoma, native to tropical America. All are grown year-round in more tropical areas but die back and go dormant during our zone 9 winters.
Colocasia varieties, perennial in USDA zones 8-11, prefer full sun and wet soil, and can tolerate standing water.
These can make an attractive addition to any water garden. The plants grow from tubers or corms, with propagation by division only. Alternately, Alocasia varieties, perennial in zones 8b-11, prefer shade or part sun with frequent watering in well-drained soil. Grown from both tubers and rhizomes (underground creeping root stalks), both can be used for propagation of new plants.
By appearance, Colocasia varieties can be identified by their downward pointing leaf tips, with leaves extending from long petioles (succulent stems) coming directly from the corm and attaching near the middle of the lower surface of the leaf. Alocasia and Xanthosoma leaf tips point outward and upward generally, with the petioles attaching at the base of the leaf.
The plants do well in pots with lots of organic matter mixed into the soil and appreciate regular watering. Many varieties of the Colocasia genus are wetland plants that can also be featured in water gardens, but Alocasia varieties prefer well drained soil. Both varieties do well in part shade to sun with some protection, but the darker purple-leaved types especially enjoy full sun. In beds, elephant ears can be planted en masse, or play well with other striking tropicals like cannas, criniums, or bananas. Coleus and caladiums also make good planting companions.
Many elephant ear species have traditionally been grown as a staple food for the edible starchy corms or tubers.
The Hawaiians pound the cooked taro (Colocasia esculenta) tubers into a paste known as poi and use the leaves to wrap fillings like chicken or fish that are then steamed. (All parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate crystals, and uncooked, will cause stomach upset if consumed; sap can be a skin irritant.)
Some fantastic Colocasia selections at Maas Nursery include Black Coral, a clumping variety with deep purple leaves, growing 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, and Hawaiian Punch, a clumper with small 8-inch-long green leaves and bright red stems. Alocasia selections include the Yucatan Princess, a dark green leafed beauty with burgundy stems that grows 6 to 8 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide, or the large similarly sized Portadora with dramatic ribbed leaves. We also carry Lime Zinger, a bright chartreuse Xanthosoma variety growing 2 to 4 feet tall and 1.5 to 3 feet wide that will brighten up any planting area.