Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bold, Tropical Elephant Ears

Bold, tropical, impressive and sometimes tremendous.  This describes Elephant Ears.  They belong to the Araceae family along with Acorus, Arisaema, Dieffenbachia, Philodendron, Zantedeschia and voodoo lilies - interesting relatives, indeed.  Various Elephant Ear genera include Alocasia, Caladium, Colocasia, Cyrtosperma, Remusatia and Xanthosoma.  Elephant ears capture attention.  The largest are as conspicuous as pachyderms in the landscape, some growing as tall as 12'.  The smaller ones, such as Caladium, make up for their small size with lots of color.  (Caladiums have different growing requirements which are discussed in my other blog article, Fancy Leaf Caladiums.)

One species, Colocasia esculenta, or Taro, has been used as food for centuries throughout tropical regions of the world. Stems and corms are usually eaten, though the leaf is also edible.  It's important to note, however, that the plant is toxic when raw because of the presence of calcium oxalate.  Cooking destroys the toxin.

Most of us know Elephant Ears best for their ornamental value.  They are hardy in USDA climate zones 8 to 11. Gardeners in colder climates lift and store them over winter for planting the following spring.  They're great for bog and water gardens, and even for container gardens.

Most Alocasia and Colocasia may be planted outdoors 10" deep and 18" to 36" apart when danger of frost is past. Some such as Colocasia 'Illustris' and C. 'Black Magic' do not produce large corms, so the base of the stems should only be planted at soil level.

Plant in full sun to partial shade.  Soil should be consistently moist.  Do not allow the soil to dry out.  Soil pH should range from 6.1 to 7.5.  To determine pH and fertilizer needs, take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis.  The basic test will cost a few dollars.  Follow the recommendations.  Do not allow synthetic granular fertilizer to come into contact with plant tissue.

If grown outdoors in containers, keep in mind that the large leaves may catch the wind and be blown over, so choose large, stable growing pots.  I recommend using pots that are at least 18" in diameter, and as deep.  Use a good grade potting soil that is light in texture and high in organic matter.

Water thoroughly after planting.  Top growth is usually apparent 4 to 8 weeks after planting.

In addition to having high moisture requirements, Elephant Ears are heavy feeders.  Fertilize every 3 or 4 weeks with your favorite liquid fertilizer, following label instructions.

For a bold, tropical statement in your landscape, Elephant Ears are the plants of choice.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great post on my favorite group of plants. I've had both Colocasia illustris and esculenta survive Winter in the ground in the Raleigh area, climate zone 7, even with days in the teens and naughts. May take a year or so for the plants to get established, but they really thrive during the hot humid North Carolina Summer (as long as you keep 'em watered)!