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You’ve seen them! The elephant ear plant – colocasia with it’s spectacular, giant leaves adding a tropical feel to any landscape.
Learn all about growing them, their needs, pest issues and how to carry them over winter to enjoy again next year. Read on…
The Elephant Ear plant or taro elephant ears is the common name for the genus Colocasia. A perennial tuber coming from the tropical swamplands under family Araceae.
The bulbs or tubers of Elephant ears are grown in Northern and Southern gardens primarily for their very decorative, ornamental foliage, and need lots of room.
The large, heart-shaped, dark green leaves of the elephant ear resemble a shield that can reach 3′ to almost 4′ feet in length and overall plant heights of 6′-7′ feet tall.
Grown indoors, the flowering of elephant ears is rare, outdoors once established, the small green sheath holding a greenish-yellow cob of flowers is common. Most of the plant species have no special scent.
Light and Temperature
Some small elephant ear looking plant varieties such as Colocasia esculenta can handle full sun when grown outdoors. Leaves may burn at first but once acclimated to the sunlight will do fine.
However, by providing a light partial shade but still strong light, elephant ear plants can grow massive.
Indoors provide as much light as possible. Good strong light is important to produce strong stems to hold up the large elephant ear leaves.
Regular room temperatures are fine and the plant is able to tolerate temps into the 60° degree Fahrenheit range.
Overall, it is best to grow the elephant ears outside during the summer.
Watering and Feeding
When growing elephant ears, remember they crave water. They are a swamp plant that develops a good, hardy, root system under water.
This is why the Colocasia finds itself “dressing up” shallow backyard ponds and a good option for those looking for landscape foliage plants to plant in wet areas.
Being a fast grower, elephant ear plants are also heavy feeders. They can be feed at every watering and responds well to foliar fertilizers and slow-release fertilizers but they need to be high in nitrogen.
Elephant Ear Plant Care
When growing any of the varieties but especially Colocasia esculenta you’ll need to plant them in the ground or in a large container, for several reasons.
- Colocasia esculenta can grow very large. To support its size it needs space to accommodate the root system.
- The soil needs to stay very moist and wet all the time. The soil should never dry out but well-drained rich moist soil is preferred
- Stability… The large heart-shaped Colocasia leaves and leaf canopy makes the plant top-heavy and can easily allow the plant to be blown over.
The soil should hold water well with lots of organic material.
In the spring as stored tubers of elephant ears begin to sprout and grow, place tubers in pots just big enough to hold them in a potting mixture of peat moss and sand or something similar.
The pots are just to get them started for planting outdoors when the weather has warmed up. Keep soil moist.
When planting these tropical plants outdoors give elephant ear plants plenty of space, approximately 3′ – 6′ feet between plants. During summer months provide them lots of water and plenty of full sun or partial shade.
Grooming Elephant Ears Plant
The only “grooming” required is to remove old leaves as they die off and withered material in the fall season before winter arrives.
Use offset tubers that the parent plant has grown during the course of the summer.
Landscape Uses For Growing Elephant Ears
These large ornamental types of bulb plants can be very impressive when placed and grown outside in a sheltered location during the summer. Especially in northern locations elephant ear plants provide a very tropical landscape look even for a short period and make good additions near water gardens.
Elephant ears can live outdoors all year in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 – 11. In these year-round growing areas some consider the elephant ears to be an invasive plant.
In northern climates, they can be treated more as annuals where the elephant ears bulbs, corms or tubers are stored over winter for the next growing season.
Over Wintering Elephant Ear Bulbs
Plants growing in the ground:
After the first frost has hit…
- Dig out the elephant ears plants growing in the landscape/garden
- Cut off and remove all foliage
- Store tubers with soil attached at a temperature around 45° – 55° degrees Fahrenheit until the spring growing season (after frost possibilities have passed)
Plants growing in pots:
- When foliage color of the plants starts turning yellow
- Begin to withhold water until plants have died down
- Keep soil very dry
- Store pots with tubers in a basement or garage at a temperature between 45° – 55° degrees Fahrenheit until spring growing season (after frost possibilities have passed).
- Check the tuber to make sure they do not dry out or rot.
Propagation by division of tuberous taro roots at spring potting time.
Colocasia esculenta (Taro or Dasheen) – “esculent” meaning edible, is grown not only for ornamental purposes. It is also widely grown like rice around the world for its large edible, starchy tubers and is an important food source.
The food crop plant must be properly cooked before eating otherwise it can be upset the stomach. The sap can irritate the skin.
Colocasia antiquorum, an ornamental species with very large leaves has variations displaying margins and veinings of purple, sometimes called the “black elephant ears”, “black magic taro” or “black taro”.
Elephant ear and coco yam are called giant elephant ears or plants under the same family such as Xanthosoma sagitifolium and white caladium. This is probably the elephant ears formerly known and sometimes still known as Caladium esculenta in the plant list.
Elephant Ear Leaf Problems and Pests
Colocasia plants are very robust growers and drink a lot of water, it is a thirsty plant. Never allow the plant to dry out.
It is susceptible to a few of the common garden pests. Spider mites love the elephant ear leaf and its texture. Especially plants growing where the air is very dry.
Look for typical spider mite webbing under the leaves. Try rinsing the plant thoroughly with a good blast of water.
If needed treat with a miticide. Follow the label!
Thrips can attack leaves and suck the juices out of the plant and develops silvery pale patches on the leaves.
Frequent misting will help keep the thrips away.
Spray with insecticide if required.
Different species of elephant ears may cause harm to humans due to the irritants in its system. It may cause severe discomfort to the lips, throat, mouth, and other parts of the oral cavity. This comes as a result of microscopic needle like raphides made of calcium oxalate monohydrate the plant use as self-defense against herbivores who would try to eat it.
If you are looking for a landscape with a tropical look and feel or in need of plants for wet areas… check out Colocasia – the elephant ear plants.