Blooming elephant ear plant

Q: I have had elephant ears for 25 years. One of the plants is now blooming a large, white, bulbous flower, with another on the way. I have had several neighbors over to see them, and they have never heard of elephant ears blooming either. Do you have any information about this?

L.B., Hempstead

A: The elephant ears we inherited with our house 28 years ago bloom occasionally. These old-fashioned green types, Colocasia esculenta, can be invasive in many warm areas so I remove most of our plants and leave just a few for large, leafy accents.

This plant is in the aroid family as are peace lily, calla and anthurium. The flower is technically a spath, a bract (modified leaf) enclosing a spadix, a fleshy spike of tiny flowers.

At least three genera are called elephant ears. Newer cultivars such as Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ are striking accents in the landscape and large containers and aren’t as aggressive.

Q: I have had two jujube trees for four years. They flower annually but produce no fruit. Do you know why?

L.L., Houston

A: Jujubes start producing after three or four years, so yours is at or nearing bearing age. It’s best to have two trees that flower at the same time for better pollination and production.

Jujube has dark-green, deciduous leaves, gray bark that can be thorny and can reach 30 or 40 feet. The oval fruit, up to 2 inches long, typically ripens in July and August, turning from green to a dark red or brown, and it wrinkles. It has applelike flesh and flavor and one seed. Drought-tolerant jujubes like the heat and are not that picky about soil pH but prefer good drainage.

Watch for roots sprouting. Unless you want multiple plants, remove the sprouts at or below ground level as they appear.

Q: I have found conflicting information about bur oaks. Does heat hurt the trees? Are they slow or fast growing? Do they grow 40 feet or 100 feet? I want to plant some but would like to live long enough to see them give me shade.

A.G., Houston

A: I don’t think heat is a problem.

How fast a bur oak grows and its mature height depends on its location, weather, soil and care. From all I’ve seen, bur oak is pretty fast growing and drought tolerant once established.

A 95-gallon, 14-foot-tall tree could give you a little shade now. It could put on 2 to 3 feet of growth a year. A healthy tree could easily reach 80 feet or more. It won’t reach that height in three to five years. But the 14-foot-tall tree could be a 28-foot-tall tree, or possibly more, in five years.

Remember, the canopy is wide on this species. So the tree won’t have to be extra tall to give you shade. Plus, the 2-inch acorns are great fun.

Q: Could you identify a pink-flowering plant that keeps popping up in my mother-in-law’s vegetable garden?

D.D., Houston

A: It appears from your photos that you have the Clerodendron bungei, commonly called cashmere bouquet or bridal bouquet. This deciduous, shrubby perennial spreads by root suckers and can be somewhat invasive. It matures to 5 or more feet in height.

Cashmere bouquet has widely oval, serrated leaves with reddish or rusty, fuzzy undersides. The large, tropical-looking foliage releases an unpleasant odor when crushed. The 8-inch clusters of reddish-purple buds open into fragrant, starlike pink flowers in the summer and into fall.

Q: A 5-foot-tall plant with clusters of small white flowers keeps appearing in my garden. Can you identify?

B.D., Houston

A: It’s elderberry. You can make wine, jelly and pies from mature berries and fritters from the flowers that appear on the common elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, a native plant that pops up along roadsides and in alleys and backyards.

These members of the honeysuckle family can become woody shrubs 10 to 12 feet in height. They will colonize into thickets given damp soil. But elderberry also tolerates dry soil and will grow in sun or shade. The fragrant flowers appear late spring through summer. Prune while dormant, or pull, roots and all, if you don’t want it.

KATHY HUBER  On gardening

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.

How to Grow an Elephant Ear Plant

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.

If you were to Google the words “elephant ear,” you would find a range of images, from the delicious, doughy staple of fried fair fare to those enormous pachyderms in all their gray, wrinkly glory.

As a gardener you will zoom in on pictures of large, green leaves that so cleverly resemble those flappy elephant ears on the real animal.

After scanning perhaps hundreds of pictures of elephant ear plants, you may find yourself filled with a burning desire to add these tropical beauties to your own garden.

Well, you’ve come to the right place for all things elephant ear! Elephant ear plant care, that is. I can’t help you with the animals ;). If you’re looking for cool plants to grow, this is a one of a kind houseplant or outdoor ornamental.

Elephant Ear Plant Overview

Common Name(s) Elephant ear plant, tarul, dasheen, chembu, champadhumpa
Scientific Name Colocasia / Xanthosoma / Caladium / Alocasia
Family Araceae
Origin Oceania, South America, Southeast Asia
Height Up to 9 feet
Light Full sun to patial shade
Water High
Temperature 65-70 °F
Humidity Medium to High
Soil Rich organic soil 5.5-7.0 pH
Fertilizer Medium
Propagation By seed, division, or runners
Pests Spider mites, thrips

If you’re a bit boggled by all the different names you see associated with the elephant ear plant, don’t be discouraged. There are more than 3,000 species out there!

The following are the related genera in the Araceae family.

Alocasia

Alocasia. source

Native to tropical and subtropical Asia to Eastern Australia, there are 79 species of this popular potted house plant. They include several from New Guinea, like aequiloba, boa, and monticola, and others from places like Malaysia, the Philippines, Sulawesi, and Borneo.

Vietnam, which boasts a species or two such as vietnamensis, is known for the use of elephant ear stalks as an herb in various soups and stir-fry dishes.

Before you try tossing a few into your next meal, keep in mind they can be poisonous if they’re not cooked.

Caladium

Caladium. source

While the flowering plants in this closely related genus are known as “elephant ear,” you wouldn’t think that their other names include “Angel Wings” and “Heart of Jesus,” unless you usually think of elephants with angel wings sprouting from their backs.

The seven species are indigenous to Central and South America, also naturalized in a few parts of Africa and India.

Colocasia

Colocasia. source

Dasheen, chembu, eddoe, and tarul are just a few of the names belonging to this genus, with others that are even more a mouthful to say. To keep herbivores from filling their mouths with it, these plants have raphides, or microscopic calcium oxalate needles, which help facilitate the transfer of an irritant that causes severe discomfort.

This is a more complicated way of referring to the “elephant ear plant poison.” However, this hasn’t stopped humans from using the 12 or so different species through fermenting or cooking, sometimes with some sort of acid like lime.

Xanthosoma

Xanthosoma. source

Here is a genus native to the tropical areas of the Americas and prized for their carbohydrate-rich corms, or bulbotubers. It is also a common food staple and an ornamental, though the leaves are different from the Colocasia in that they aren’t peltate. This genus gets its name from its yellow tissues, xanthos being Greek for “yellow.” There are at least 75 species of Xanthosoma, from acutum to yucatanense.

History of the Elephant Ear Plant

When a plant has been in cultivation for more than 28,000 years like the Colocasia, it can be harder to pin down where it started. The evidence speaks to a beginning in Southeast Asia, though this is still widely debated. It has been a food crop for areas near the equator in countries like Indonesia, Polynesia, China, and Africa.

While my earlier warnings of digestive issues from consuming this plant may put a few readers off their feed, it is true that every part of this plant is edible as long as it’s prepared correctly.

Hawaiians in particular used the corms for poi and leaves for luaus, though much of their production has been replaced with modern agriculture. In spite of that, some of their Colocasia varieties have been preserved by agricultural scientists and new ones are being bred.

Elephant Ear Plant Types

There are dozens of different types of elephant ear plant, but here are 26 of the most popular varieties. Some of them are small, and some grow to be gigantic elephant ear plants if they’re given optimal growing conditions.

Tip: If you want a unique variety, I suggest going with one of the black elephant ears, like ‘Black Beauty’, also known as the “black magic plant.”

Amazonica

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Striking foliage with scalloped edges.

Bikini Tini

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Bold color, taller than most varieties

Black Beauty

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Deep purple leaves with green stems.

Black Magic

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Deep purple, huge leaves.

Black Stem

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Deep black stem with green leaves.

Calidora

Ribbed foliage, huge leaves.

​Chicago Harlequin

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Giant green leaves with blotches.

Coffee Cup

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Black stems, leaves shaped like small cups.

Cranberry

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Bright ruby-red stems.

Diamond Head

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Deep purple leaves that are glossy.

Electric Blue Gecko

Brightly colored stems and foliage.

Elena

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Light, bright, green leaves.

Frydek

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Deep green leaves with bright white stems.

Illustris

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Huge leaves with dark highlights.

Limeade

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Two-tone green marbled leaves.

Longiloba

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Emerald green, stretched out leaves.

Midori Sour

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Red stems with bright green leaves.

Mojito

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Mottled light and dark green leaves.

Nigra

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Wide, dark green leaves.

Noble Gigante

Massive 3′ long grey-black leaves.

Pink China

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Hyper-bright pink stems.

Puckered Up

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Rippled shiny black leaves.

Red Stem

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Deep red stem with green leaves.

Tea Cup

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Tiny, teacup-shaped green leaves.

Yucatan Princess

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Upright, glossy, green-purple leaves.

Zulu Mask

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Long, dark-olive leaves. Undersides are purple.

These different but related genera have similar planting requirements, with a few little special quirks of their own. Before choosing a variety to plant, you might want to consider this: whether the variety is a clumper or a runner.

Clumpers vs. Runners

While a few varieties may put a root or two over the dividing lines, most Colocasia are either clumpers or runners. For example, aquatilis may not be a good choice for small gardens as it produces very long above-ground runners, or stolons. You may end up with more elephant ears in your small space than you wanted. Colocasia Illustris, Black Beauty, and Coal Miner are the only ones with below-ground runners.

If you want slow or non-runners (gee, I can really relate to those types), the clumping varieties with their attractive vase shape may work better for you.

Planting Elephant Ears

When

When your area has seen the last of the frost and cold temperatures, you should be safe for planting outdoors. Check what zones of the type you pick are hardy to — Colocasia “Pink China” is possibly hardy to Zone 6 but some others, like Colocasia gigantea “Thailand Giant Strain,” are quite settled in the Zone 8b area.

Elephant ears are fantastic zone 9 plants and above — you usually won’t have to worry about frost in these zones.

Caladiums are generally Zone 10. Keep a close eye on your outdoor temperatures, as damage can occur below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a colder climate, consider keeping your elephant ear plant indoors, at least to overwinter.

How to Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs and Seeds

As far as how deep to plant elephant ear bulbs, you should plant tubers fairly close to the soil’s surface, perhaps two to four inches. Some types, such as Colocasia esculenta, can be potted in shallow water, submerged during the summer around the edges of a pond, for instance. If not in standing water, mulching may lend a helping hand.

If you are planting fertilized seed, sow it on the surface and look for germination to happen around 21 days.

Where to Plant Elephant Ear

Elephant ears like humid areas but not necessarily direct sunlight. A partially shady spot may be ideal, especially if you start noticing a browning of the leaves in a dryer climate.

Alocasia types sometimes do better in a controlled greenhouse environment.

There are a few sun-resistant varieties of Caladium being cultivated, if this proves to be an issue for you. Good drainage is a must when planted in the ground.

Give the taller varieties room to grow, as some can reach eight feet tall!

Elephant Ear Plant Care & Tips

Growing elephant ears is actually pretty easy, even in winter. While it’s a bit more picky than something like a cast iron plant or a zz plant, ​with a little attention you can have your elephant ear thriving.

Sun

Depending on the type, these tropical plants prefer sun or partial shade, though some might like full shade even better. It’s not so much the sun that is the issue with them, though too much can cause browning problems, but the warmth.

If you find the temperature dropping below 50 degrees, that might be a good time to move them indoors or into a greenhouse.

Water

Repeat after me: moisture, moisture, moisture. These are plants that need a lot of water! Keep them away from strong winds, perhaps potting them partially submerged in water, or make good use of mulch.

Because they are a water-loving plant, you might think that any browning at the tips is a sign of over-watering. This could be the case, but in most cases the browning is caused by too much sun and too LITTLE water.

Check the top five inches or so of soil around the plant for dryness and adjust watering as needed.

Fertilizing

Elephant ears do like their soil rich with organic compost and organic fertilizers. If you can get your hands on some manure (please wear gloves), the plants will love you for the tasty meal. Fertilize about once a month.

Spacing

Pay attention to the size your choice of plant may grow to and plant accordingly, giving them room to stretch out so they don’t hog the sun from one another.

Companion Plants

Different elephant ear plants can have different leaf colors and shapes, so it can be fun to try several kinds together planted in interesting patterns.

Other recommendations include ferns of contrasting colors, flowers like begonias, and foliage with smaller leaves like Coleus.

How to Overwinter Elephant Ears

Particularly for any Zone below 7a, overwintering indoors is recommended. Zone 8b and further south may be able to overwinter outside with some protection but a hard winter might make its spring comeback difficult.

When you notice your elephant ear plant flower and leaf production is dropping off, check the bulb for swelling and possibly even movement upward in the soil. This is a good indication that it’s time to dig up the bulb and transfer it indoors.

If they are already potted, just bring them in; they make excellent houseplants, too. Place them somewhere with light and adjust your watering as the plant goes semi-dormant.

If you don’t have space for these rather large houseplants, you can also just dig up the tubers and store them someplace dry and warm enough to avoid freezing. Skip the airtight containers, though. This can invite moisture building and destroy your hard work.

For overwintering outside, shredded leaves can help protect the bulb from freezing and rotting.

Growing in Pots

​Let’s face it – elephant ears can get pretty big. If you’d like to enjoy the unique beauty of this plant but control the size, consider growing elephant ear plants in pots.

Choose a pot that’s large enough for the roots to spread out both horizontally and vertically. ​Planting elephant ears in pots is nice when you need to overwinter them, because you can just drag them indoors or pull them into your greenhouse for the cold season.

Pests and Diseases

Leaf Blight – Fungal diseases can be common for elephant ears thanks to their constant begging for moisture, made doubly difficult when you can’t dry out this plant to fight the fungus.

Standard fungicides can take care of this issue, but try to avoid the problem to begin with by directing water to the roots and not the leaves.

Bacterial leaf spot – Just like it sounds, this microscopic bacteria causes little brown spots to appear on leaves. A copper fungicide applied in the early stages of the infection can help. Avoid planting where previously infected plants had been.

Phyllosticta leaf spot – Again, moisture is the culprit for the spread of this fungus, which shows as little purple or black spots. Splashing water can spread it from one plant to the next, so keep watering controlled and directed.

Though it doesn’t usually kill entire plants, it does kill leaves and makes the plant susceptible to other nasty critters. Keep some space between your plants to allow for air to move. Prevention is best as it is nearly impossible to eliminate the fungus on an infected plant. Some fungicides can help protect healthy plants.

Spider mites – Even the name gives me the creeps. Hiding under plant leaves, these little bugs even spin webs to protect themselves.

The use of neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and even predatory mites like the Phytoseiulus persimilis can control the spider mite population. Yes, good creepy bugs to control the bad creepy bugs.

Thrips – Some of their other names are more exciting, like thunderflies and storm bugs. Some can be beneficial, eating mites and fungal spores, but some eat plants and transmit viruses. Insecticidal soap and some pesticides can help, though thrips are hard to control due to their rate of reproduction and slender shape.

Aphid wasps, Trichogrammatidae, and Eulophidae can also control thrip populations.

FAQs​

Q: What’s the best way to overwinter my elephant ear plant?

A: Depends on where you live and what type you have. The easiest way would be to grow them in pots and bring them into the house once the temperatures dip.

If you don’t have room in your house for them, then dig up the tubers, allow them to dry a bit, and store them in a dry spot that stays around 45 to 50 degrees all winter long. Putting them in mesh bags and tucking them in layers of peat moss is good storage method.

Q: There are so many different kinds of elephant ears! How do I choose?

A: First of all, find ones that match the zone you live in. That will narrow things down a bit to begin. After that, look at pictures of the different ones and see which ones are most pleasing to you.

Perhaps you like the deep, glossy, purplish-green of the black elephant ear plant, like the Colocasia Black Coral. Or something with deep pink stems and bright green leaves, like the Pink China. This should get you started down the path to the right one for you.

So many elephant ears, so little time! If you really want people to wonder about you, try saying this out loud at your next dinner party. Then again, that might not be a good idea if you have a lot of vegetarian friends.

At any rate, it would be a great conversation starter with fellow gardeners, allowing you to enlighten them about these large-leafed beauties. Perhaps you could start a trade with them, sharing the different colors, shapes, and sizes between you for years to come.

Have a few elephant ear plants of your own?

Share your experiences in the comments.

Share your questions there, too, while you’re at it.

Share this article with your friends.

Share your coffee with me if you have any (I need a refill.)

Thanks for stopping by!

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:
Kevin Espiritu
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