Scientific name: Alocasia and Hybrids
Synonyms: Elephants Ear, Taro
Alocasia, or Elephant Ear plants, are prized for their sculptural elegance, as well as their ability to grow large when conditions are right, whether they are used as a feature plant in an outdoor landscape or as an indoor feature. Their tall, elegant stems and large, often spear-shaped leaves create a jungle-like atmosphere inside, where conditions can be easier to control and keep them thriving.
Alocasia have 97 different species with various interesting foliage, including some with striking stems. Consider the Alocasia Zebrina, which is prized for its distinctly patterned stems or the Elephants Ear Stingray, which is cherished for its uncommon leaf shapes. For something a little more striking, try the Alocasia Cuprea Red Secret, known for its metallic sheen, rarity and deep red foliage. There are a few Elephant ears that have lustrous deep green foliage patterned with striking white veins or velvety texture. Otherwise, large, deep purple foliage such as the Yucatan Princess or lush green, huge leaves of the Macrorrhiza are what draw people to this versatile and extraordinary variety of houseplant.
Elephant Ears can be confused with the Colocasia genus, a close relative that is also indigenous to Asia, however with a slightly different growing preference. Colocasia thrives in water, whereas Alocasia prefer drier potting soil. This is important to note for new plant parents, since Alocasia have a sensitivity to root rot if kept too wet. To tell the difference between these genus, consider the growing habit of their leaves: Alocasia tend to point upwards, whereas Colocasia bend downwards.
Depending on which species you have, you may find the plant “dying back”, or retreating, in winter. Some Elephants Ear plants enter a stage of dormancy, so there is no need to worry. You’ll notice this happening if everything above the soil dies off. Continue caring for the ‘empty’ pot by placing it in a warmer position, and watering it as needed, to avoid the soil drying out completely. Do not fertilize, and in spring you will find new shoots growing.
NOTE: The Elephants Ear plant is very poisonous and should be kept away from children and pets.
Elephant Ear (Alocasia) Common Symptoms
- Brown leaves: Brown leaves on the Elephants Ear could be caused by two problems: Overwatering or the cold. Check your watering approach and ensure that the soil is moist and not soggy. Also, check that the plant is placed in an area where it is warm enough, 15°C or more.
- Leaves are dry or crispy: Dry, crispy leaves are often caused by low humidity. Increase humidity by either spritzing regularly or placing your plant on a pebble tray to address this. Also ensure that your plant is not standing in a cool breeze. If this is the case, relocate.
- Crown, leaf spot, and stem or root rot: These diseases are caused by overwatering and usually appear as dark brown or black spots on the leaves surrounded by a yellowish rim. To prevent this, avoid over-watering, keep the leaves dry, and provide it with good air circulation. If your plant does get infected, immediately remove the infected and damaged leaves. Treat it with an Organic Fungicide.
- Pale/Patchy brown leaves: This is caused by too much light, usually direct sunlight. This may also occur if you have moved the plant from a dark area to a very bright area too quickly causing the foliage to bleach. The plant may have been unable to adapt to its new surroundings sufficiently, it is best to relocate your Alocasia gradually.
- Pests: It is best to keep your plant in its optimal conditions to prevent an invasion of Mealy Bugs, Scale, Aphids or Spider Mites. Consider spraying your plant with room temperature soapy water every few weeks, as a preventative measure. This would also keep the large leaves dust free. If you do find that you have an infestation of pests, spray the plant with an ultra-fine insecticidal oil, such as Neem Oil or Pyrol. This will kill the pests as well as the egg. Read up more on Pest Prevention here.
Elephant Ear (Alocasia) Care Instructions
- Origin: South - East Asia and parts of Australasia
- Height: Grow up to 45cm – 4m with a spread of around 60cm - 2m, depending on the species.
- Light: Requires very bright, indirect light and must be kept out of direct sunlight as this will cause leaf burn. Avoid low lighting levels as much as possible. Some darker velvety leafed or iridescent types can tolerate medium to low natural light.
- Water: Water well and then allow the top 2-6cm of soil to dry out before watering again. Water the plant less frequently in winter when it is dormant or not growing actively.
- Humidity: Elephants Ear grow best in high humidity. Increase humidity by placing it among other plants or placing it on a tray of pebbles and water. Ensure that the plant is not sitting in the water.
- Temperature: Elephants Ear plants prefer indoor temperatures to be warm at 15 – 26°C. If the plant is exposed to prolonged temperatures below 15°C, it will become dormant and may drop all of its leaves. Keep the plant away from cold drafts.
- Soil: Use an organic, well aerated soil mix.
- Fertilizer: Use an all-purpose fertilizer diluted by half. Feed once a month, cutting back during dormancy in winter (unless the plant is actively growing).
- Repotting: Repot in spring when it has outgrown its pot or has produced a lot of offsets.
- Pruning: Remove any yellow or leaves developing brown/black spots immediately.
- Propagation: Division - Remove any offsets (at the same time as re-potting your parent plant) that may have sprung up from the parent plant and pot. Best time to do this is in spring.
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