Elephant Ears: Exotic Leafy Plants to Grow Indoors or Out
Are you looking for something new and exciting to add to your landscape this year, or maybe a new indoor plant for your houseplant collection?
Look no further than the plant, elephant ears. Its shape and color are spectacular, and with the right care, this plant can grow to be massive.
If you are looking for something stunning with a modern look, this might be your new favorite.
Elephant Ears: Colocasia and Alocasia
Elephant ear plants are actually two different plants from the same family, known by the same name. Both of these plants have the similar shape leaf.
However, there are some crucial differences between the two.
Colocasia (Elephant Ears)
Colocasia is a tropical swampland native and a tuber. What you’re getting in this plant is decorative foliage, but not just your run-of-the-mill ornamental foliage.
The colocasia plant grows shield-like leaves up to 4 feet long and shaped like hearts, and it can grow up to 7 feet high.
This plant comes in several different colors. Some have veins and margins of deep purple, some have variegated green patterns, some have bright pink centers, and some are plain black.
When grown outside, elephant ear plants flower by putting out a small, scentless green sheath with a cob of yellow flowers.
If you are saving this plant for indoors, it will rarely flower unless you have a truly fantastic amount of sunlight in your house.
Have you ever had taro root to eat?
The colocasia esculenta is also called taro or dasheen and is grown around the world for its edible tubers. In some cultures, it’s a staple food source much like the American potato.
However, if you decide to eat your colocasia, remember that it has to be correctly prepared or it will irritate your stomach, and the sap can irritate your skin.
Alocasia (Elephant Ears)
Alocasia, on the other hand, is not a swamp plant. You can kill this variety by over watering.
There are 70 different species and some can provide the same characteristics of color, size, and shape as its cousin.
However, this plant has also been hybridized so that you can find them in small form as well.
Alocasia plants grow from both tubers and rhizomes, and its roots are never good to eat.
Growing Elephant Ears Outdoors
The elephant ear plant will do well in full sun if you get the right species. Inside, it will not grow as big because of a relative lack of sunlight. But if you grow this plant outside in partial shade, it will thrive and grow to its full potential height.
Because of its tropical origins, the elephant ear tubers will need to be taken inside every winter or brought inside where temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees if you live outside of USDA zones 8-11.
In one of those zones, you can safely leave your colocasia plants outside all year. Both species will go through a dormant phase where all foliage will turn yellow and die.
In colder climates, dig up the tubers or rhizomes and bring indoors. Store them in soil at 45-55 degrees for 8-10 weeks. Wake them up indoors by watering them in a small pot, and transfer to your garden in partial shade. Watch out! They proliferate very rapidly.
Differences in Watering
The main difference colocasia needs is water. Because it’s a swamp plant, it is used to developing its root system under water and is a “heavy feeder.”
In addition, it needs to be watered consistently and fed with a high nitrogen fertilizer at every feeding.
If you are looking for a plant to dress up a water feature or backyard pond, colocasia is a good option. The plant will thrive, and your water feature or pond will take on a luxurious, tropical look.
Alocasia should be given loose, well-draining soil. While it likes humidity, it does not want to stand in water. Knowing the difference between these two cousins is crucial for this step.
How Do You Tell Them Apart?
Other than the tag that comes with any plant you buy at a nursery, you can tell these two apart by the way their leaves point.
Alocasia plants have stems that go all the way up through the leaf, and therefore are almost always standing at attention with leaves pointing up.
Colocasia’s leaves point down.
The other thing to look out for when planting an elephant ear plant outside is its need for shelter, especially if you live in an area prone to high winds. These plants can tend to be top-heavy, so try to plant it next to some shelter.
Other needs regardless of location include:
- Soil with lots of organic matter that can hold water well.
- Lots of space to grow for both the plant above ground and the roots.
- Plenty of water and humidity.
Growing Elephant Ears Indoors
Both alocasia and colocasia plants can be grown indoors successfully, although it would be difficult to get one to reach its full potential without an atrium or some other feature that allowed for more sunlight.
Elephant ear plants are pleasing to the eye, however, even if they don’t grow to be enormous.
There are a few things to keep in mind:
- Make sure you have a large pot and an ample indoor space in mind for these plants. They grow one new leaf per week, even indoors. Their leaves die back, but each dead leaf is replaced by a bigger leaf throughout its growing season.
- If you keep your house very cold or have a cool summer, try to maintain a stable temperature indoors. Elephant ear plants will suffer if the temperature is less than 60 degrees.
Other than some slightly finicky growing conditions, elephant ear plants are relatively easy to maintain. However, there is one small but significant caveat: they are poisonous to pets and humans.
They have microscopic raphides (crystals ) made of calcium oxalate monohydrate that act like needles and irritate the mouth, lips, and tongue of any predator.
You may want to think again if you have a pet or toddler who is prone to putting things in their mouth.
You may be asking, how can the colocasia taro root be a major food source in many Asian countries? Taro is eaten cooked. The crystals break down during cooking rendering them harmless.
Most varieties of alocasia plants are toxic and are not edible.
Elephant ear plants are some of the world’s most striking and gorgeous plants. They are exceptionally lovely with modern and contemporary decor or to create a stunning backdrop for your outdoor space.
If you take care to give them what they need, they will do what you want year after year.
When planting new plants both indoor and out, install Rootwell’s Root Starter Sticks to ensure your plants receive the oxygen, water, and nutrients they need to thrive.