Elephant ear plants are tropical plants with massive heart-shaped leaves and are guaranteed to make any garden look tropical. Elephant ears are mostly known as Colocasia, Alocasia, and Xanthosoma. Their close relatives, Caladiums, are also considered to be elephant ear plants.
The difference between Colocasia and Alocasia is the position of the leaves. Leaves of Alocasia are upright, but leaves of Colocasia point downwards. Xanthasomas have arrowhead-shaped leaves, and Colocasia and Alocasia have rounder-shaped leaves.
There are various types of these plants available in many different colors.
One of the downward-pointing elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta) is also known as Taro, which is a root vegetable that belongs to the Araceae family. In fact, it is the most widely cultivated species that is used as a vegetable!
Taro corms, leaves, and petioles are used as food in Oceanic, African, and South Asian cultures and are probably one of the earliest cultivated plants around.
They are actually corms. Corms have solid tissue in the center, whereas bulbs are an immature layer of leaves.
Various Types of Elephant Ear Plants
- ‘Blue Hawaii’ – green leaves, dark purplish-black veins, and maroon under the leaf
- ‘Coffee Cup’ – tall, dark petioles whose leaves make a wonderful cup shape
- ‘Diamond Head’- slightly puckered leaves with beautiful purple gloss
- ‘Jet Black Wonder’ – light veins with most of the leaf black
- ‘Lime Zinger’ –Xanthosoma with lime green leaves
- ‘Mojito’ – Green leaves with irregular speckles of black.
- ‘Pink China’ – Has pink stems with green leaves, very cold-hardy type; a few people have reported it surviving in USDA zone 5!
- ‘Thailand Giant Strain’ – very massive plant, leaves are gray-blue-green. However, this species needs better draining soil than Taro.
How to Grow Elephant Ears?
Growing elephant ears is pretty simple, provided you have the right climate. Elephant ears are usually grown in containers since they are easy to replant. When properly cared for, these plants can grow huge, up to 6,5 feet (2 meters) in height!
Elephant ears are native to South Asia, which means they are tropical plants. They thrive in USDA Hardiness zones 8-11 and will even be evergreen in zones 10 and 11. In zone 8-9, they will likely die for the wintertime but will grow back in the spring!
It is also possible to grow Alocasias, Colocasias, or Xanthasomas in zones below 8, but it will be necessary to bring them indoors for winter. If you have no room indoors, you can remove the corn and store them indoors for the winter and plant them again in the spring, behaving like perennial plants.
Perfect temperatures for elephant ears are 65- 80°F (18-26 °C).
As mentioned before, elephant ears are big and native to Southeast Asia; they are going to demand a lot of water. You should never allow the soil to dry out completely; always keep the soil moist. Depending on the humidity levels and exposure to the sun, you might need to water this plant several times per day.
No need to water the stems or leaves; just water the roots as they provide moisture to the whole plant. During winter months, cut back on the watering a little bit.
Soil and Fertilizer
Elephant ear plant thrives in loamy soil and needs nutrients constantly. It is advised to add liquid fertilizer (balanced or high-nitrogen) or compost every two weeks to ensure proper growth.
Elephant ear is not very forgiving when it comes to nutrients; it might even die when not given enough nutrients.
Elephant ear plants should be planted in locations with partial shade or full sun, depending on the intensity of the sun; the intense sun can dry the plant too quickly; however, darker variations need a lot of sunlight to maintain color.
Elephant ears grow new leaves during the growing season, and older leaves will start dying. It’s best to prune them to keep your plant looking good unless you want a rugged look. Make sure to use sharp tools to prevent tearing and unnecessarily hurting the plant.
Growing from Seed
Take the seeds and place them on top of a seed-starting mix; add a little bit on top as well, but don’t cover it. Spray the seeds with some mist to dampen the mix.
New seedlings should appear in three weeks but can take a few weeks longer. Find a place for the seeds with a lot of sunlight, but not directly.
Growing from seed is not so easy; a better method of propagation is by division. You will need a sharp, sterile cutting tool, a tray, and some paper for drying.
- Put on some gloves and dig up the corm.
- Carefully cut the corm into pieces, with no less than one growth coming from each piece.
- Place the gorm pieces apart on a tray, allowing the corm pieces to heal.
- Dry the cuttings at indoor temperatures and kept away from sunlight; this process should last a week.
- Wrap the cuttings in paper and place them in a cold room (not freezing).
- Check the cuttings every week to ensure they are not black or moldy; throw them away if it happens.
- It is possible to store the cuttings over a winter
- That’s it! When planting, make sure the growth nodes are facing upwards.
Diseases & Pests
Pythium rot causes elephant ears to have yellow spots on the leaves or stems. Check the elephant ear plant root; if it’s darker than usual and looks oily, you should throw it away. In case the root is healthy, use a copper-based fungicide.
Fungal leaf blight is a common fungal disease that affects elephant ear plants. The first indication of fungal leaf blight is purple or yellow lesions that release liquid. It can completely wipe out the plant if left untreated. Remove the infected leaves and hope for the best.
Spider mites are the main pest of elephant ear plants. The first indication of spider mites is brown or yellow spots on the leaves. Although they might not kill the plant, spider mites will affect the plants’ growth and appearance. Use neem oil or insecticidal soap to get rid of these nasty pests; if not available, you can try to use water to wash spider mites off the plant.
Frequently Asked Questions
Elephant ears are quite demanding when it comes to water, nutrients to light. Provide the plant with more sunlight, water, or fertilizer until you find a solution.
In colder zones, the elephant ear plant is just preparing for wintering. If it happens in a growing season, it needs more sunlight, water, or nutrients.