Alocasias, commonly called Elephant Ears, are kept as both a house plant and an outdoor plant, particularly in areas with year-round warm weather.
The nickname, Elephant Ear, applies to several other genera of plants, such as Alocasia, Colocasia, and Xanthosoma.
While some of these plants are too large to be kept indoors, there are many that remain a compact size (between 1 to 3 feet) which is perfect for indoor gardening. These varieties, which also adorn gorgeous foliage in many colors and textures, are relatively easy to care for if you know what their requirements are.
In this post, we will peek into the world of Alocasia to learn more about where they come from, how to care for them, and what some of the prized Alocasias are.
Table of Contents
Where are Alocasias found?
How large do Alocasias get?
Do Alocasias flower?
Can you manually pollinate an Alocasia?
What are some species and cultivars of Alocasia?
How do you care for Alocasia?
What pest issues do Alocasias have?
How do you propagate Alocasia?
Alocasia macrorrhizos, known as “Giant Taro,” is cultivated as food. It is one of the largest Alocasia. The stems of this Alocasia can be cooked and eaten or used to produce a starch, if prepared properly.
Without thorough cooking, however, Alocasia macrorrhizos and its relatives are incredibly toxic.
Giant Taro (Alocasia macrorrhizos) is not the same plant that produces the edible purple root eaten by itself or used as a delicious flavoring in bread or desserts. This purple taro root comes from the edible corms of Colocasia esculenta. Thanks to this plant, my favorite flavor of bubble tea exists!
Taro, like Elephant Ear, is a name used to refer to many species of Alocasia, Colocasia, and Xanthosoma, so be sure to research the exact plant you are purchasing if you are looking for an edible variety!
Where are Alocasia found?
Alocasias are native to Asia and Australia, growing in tropical rainforests and marshes. They are found on the forest floor, where they do not receive large amounts of direct sunlight. This isn’t to say to Alocasia is a low light plant. It is actually the opposite. These forest dwellers receive high amounts of indirect light filtered through the trees and do not do well in lower light areas.
Living on the forest floor provides these plants with an airy, compost-like substrate. Since they share the area with many other plants, their roots have tight spaces to grow and thrive.
Native to tropical environments, Alocasias are humidity-loving plants, but many will do okay in lower humidity as well.
How large can Alocasia get?
Alocasia ranges wildly in size, from species that max out at a foot or two tall to plants that reach more than 12 feet tall with leaves spanning 3 feet or more.
The majority of the plants available through greenhouses are on the smaller side, making good houseplants. However, there are some varieties, like Alocasia odora that can grow to large sizes and are relatively common in the houseplant sector.
Do Alocasia flower?
These plants are part of the aroid family and produce the characteristic inflorescence or flower-like structure.
The center or rod-like section of the inflorescence is called a spadix. The spadix is surrounded by a leaf-like structure called a spathe. The spathe protects the spadix which contains both male and female flower parts.
Pollinated inflorescences produce berries that contain the plant’s seeds.
Some plants in the aroid family produce a spadix without a spathe, like Scindapsus.
Can you manually pollinate an Alocasia?
Alocasias rarely flower indoors, but if they do it is possible to pollinate them. I have read that it can be difficult to manually pollinate Alocasia, but not impossible.
Alocasia has separated female and male parts that require a pollinator to transfer pollen from the male part to the female part. The transfer can be done within the same flower or between flowers.
Here’s one method of manual pollination that I plan to try if I have an Alocasia in bloom:
“Our technique involves cutting a portion of the spathe away near the base of the inflorescence so as to gain access to the pistils.
Once the pistils are exposed, we then gently dab the dry brush onto the moist pistils before dipping it in the pollen we intend to use for our cross. Then we dab the pollen-laden brush onto the pistils, placing pollen on as many of them as is possible.
We do not cut the entire spathe away as we feel that it offers some protection to the developing berries. […]
When is the right time to pollinate, and when can pollen be collected? First, the pistils on Alocasia are receptive when the inflorescence first opens, while the pollen is shed a day or so afterwards. The exact timing is dependent upon the ambient temperature; when the weather is cool, the pollen many not shed for two or three days, while when the weather is warm, the pollen is shed on the day after the pistils are receptive. Experience and familiarity are keys in performing a cross that has a good likelihood of success.”
Check out the website to see a picture of how Aroidia Research creates an incision for pollination. (linked here)
What are some species and cultivars of Alocasia?
The list below is by no means an all-inclusive list of the Alocasias out there and available. In fact, just to bring this point home, I went to the greenhouse recently and saw several varieties of Alocasia for the first time that looked similar to, but distinctly different from, Alocasia Amazonica! I haven’t featured any of those on this list, but I can attest they are out there.
The most popular and sought after Alocasias are the Jewel Alocasias. These Alocasias are known for their compact size, interesting leaf textures, and amazing colors.
Several Jewel Alocasias are featured below: Alocasia Amazonica, Alocasia Grey Dragon, Alocasia Silver Dragon, Alocasia Dragonscale, Alocasia cuprea, and more.
Alocasia Amazonica or Alocasia Polly
This Jewel alocasia is the most readily available, at least in the United States. It is a hybrid of Alocasia watsoniana and Alocasia sanderiana. Despite its recent popularity, Alocasia Amazonica has been around since the 1950s. It is also often sold as Alocasia Polly. This plant was bred by a grower in Florida who owned a greenhouse named Amazon Nursery – which is where the name Alocasia Amazonica originated. Making a wonderful houseplant, it stays fairly compact at only 1.5 feet tall in its adult form.
Alocasia micholitziana ‘Frydek’ or Alocasia Frydek or Green Velvet Alocasia
Alocasia micholitziana ‘Frydek’ was my first Alocasia. I had really wanted Alocasia Amazonica and ordered the wrong thing. Once I opened the box, I realized I had received a stunning plant…. that was definitely not Alocasia Amazonica! The gorgeous, velvety, rich green leaves with white glowing veins on Alocasia Frydek were so striking that I was actually excited to have ordered incorrectly. This plant is sometimes called the Green Velvet Alocasia and can grow to 2 or 3 feet in height at maturity. My Alocasia Frydek that is currently in a 6 inch pot stands about 2 feet tall and produces leaves over a foot long.
Alocasia Grey Dragon or Alocasia maharani ‘Grey Dragon’
Alocasia Grey Dragon is a very reptilian plant with leathery or scale-like leaves. Its foliage is grayish green and develops a red backing as it matures. I haven’t found firm information on how large this Alocasia becomes. It seems to be a cross between Alocasia Black Velvet (which stays quite compact) and Alocasia melo (which is also on the smaller side).
Alocasia odora can reach up to 12 feet in height, making it a true statement piece as a houseplant. This plant has lush, large leaves and is also available in a white variegated form.
Alocasia baginda ‘Silver Dragon’ and ‘Dragonscale’
These two Jewel Alocasias are my absolute favorite. Both of these are tough to come by and, when you do find them, generally cost a lot of money.
Silver Dragon’s leaves are covered in silvery gray with dark, prominent veins. Dragonscale, on the other hand, is marked by dark green foliage with even darker veins. The two together make an amazing site.
Alocasia cuprea, despite its alien-esque appearance, is real and even more striking in person. The leaves have a metallic sheen with dark red-purple backs. It’s name means copper-leaf, describing the foliage well. It grows to approximately 3 feet, making it a wonderful and unique houseplant.
Alocasia sinuata has cute, shiny green leaves with dark veins. It stays very compact at only 12-14 inches fully grown.
“The name “reversa” is supposed to refer to the coloration pattern that is the reverse of what is commonly seen, but we know of no other Alocasia like this one that has the pattern reversed. Perhaps the thinking was that, unlike the species with silver veins and dark green between the veins, this plant has dark around the veins and lighter coloration between.” from Aroidia Research (linked here).
Alocasia nebula ‘Imperialis’
Alocasia nebula ‘Imperialis’ is an absolutely stunning Jewel Alocasia that is quite rare and highly sought after. It is at the top of my wishlist, but likely won’t be a part of my collection for a long time due to its high price.
Alocasia melo reminds me a lot of Alocasia ‘Grey Dragon’, which makes sense as it is one of Grey Dragon’s parents. I would LOVE to own or at least see one of these guys in real life!
Alocasia zebrina and Alocasia zebrina ‘Reticulata’
This Alocasia features gorgeous striped petioles, giving it the name zebrina for its zebra-like patterning. Plants can reach up to 3 feet in height and are certainly a showstopper all by themselves. The cultivar, Reticulata, adorns beautiful patterning on the leaves in addition to its zebra-esque petioles.
Alocasia reginae means “the queen,” appropriately named for its regal, beautiful foliage. I’ve read that this particular Alocasia needs high humidity!
Alocasia ‘Flying Squid’
Alocasia ‘Flying Squid’ only grows to around 1 foot at its mature height! It is one of the smallest Alocasias and one of the most unique, with squid-like petioles and leaves.
Alocasia ‘Tiny Dancer’
“Alocasia ‘Tiny Dancers’ is an unusual aroid that only grows about 14” tall with bright green stems and leaves that have a slightly cupped form. Its growth habit, however, gives the appearance of a full bushy plant as the stems emerge at different times, giving it a tiered effect. ‘Tiny Dancers’ is considered one of the best houseplants for its ease of care. It won the award for the ‘Most Unusual Aroid’ at the International Aroid Society Show. Remember, keep it moist, go light on the fertilizer and grow in a partially sunlit window if it’s an indoor houseplant. It also makes an ideal plant for an outdoor patio due to its unique form.”
Alocasia renigula ‘Black Velvet’
Black Velvet has a similar velvety leaf texture to Alocasia Frydek, but has more venation and a leaf-shape similar to the other Jewel Alocasias. It reaches a height of about 1 foot at maturity, making it one of the smallest Alocasia.
How do you care for Alocasia?
Alocasias prefer a surprising amount of light. When I first began to bring them home, I put them along a wall near a South and West-facing window. Because both of these windows offer intense light, I didn’t want them any closer for fear of burning.
What I found, however, was an unhappy Alocasia stretching wildly toward the light and not growing.
After a couple of months of watching these plants suffer and begin to decline, I finally tried moving them right in front of my West-facing window whose light was slightly decreased by open blinds. To my delight, they began to turn around and were growing new larger leaves within a month or two!
So while they do like bright, indirect light, they want the brightest indirect light you can offer in my experience.
The most important part of creating a soil mix for Alocasia is to include lots of chunky or airy substrates to prevent water from sitting around the roots for very long.
I use a mixture that looks a lot like an orchid potting mix, which is an option to consider if you’d prefer not to make your own potting mix.
My mix includes organic potting soil, orchid bark, perlite, and horticultural charcoal. I would guess the mix ends up being about 1/3 potting mix, 1/3 orchid bark, 1/3 perlite, and a handful of horticultural charcoal.
These ingredients create a super chunky soil that allows water to pass through incredibly quickly. If water is passing through too quickly and creating a situation where you need to water every day, upping the amount of potting soil or pot size slightly can help.
I plant all of my Alocasias in clay pots because their roots are very susceptible to root rot.
Clay pots wick some of the water away from the soil helping to prevent an Alocasia’s roots from sitting in a wet environment for an extended period of time.
Because Alocasias are used to sharing small areas with many other plants, they prefer to be planted in tight-fitting pots.
I learned this care tip the hard way by planting one of my Alocasia Frydek’s in a much larger pot because I was tired of repotting it so frequently.
Not surprisingly, my laziness backfired terribly and my Alocasia began to develop root rot.
Once I realized the mistake I had made, I removed the plant from its huge pot and trimmed away any unhealthy roots. Then I replanted it in a tight-fitting pot and watered a bit more cautiously to prevent more rot.
The plant is still alive, but the leaves are emerging at a third of the size they were before going through so much stress.
I now only repot an Alocasia to just an inch or two larger to ensure these plants won’t suffer the same fate.
I have found that the thinner leaf Alocasia (like A. Frydek or A. odora) like to stay evenly moist. I use a moisture meter to confirm they are ready to be watered (the one I use is linked here on Amazon). When the meter reads a 3 (the line between moist and dry), I water thoroughly. This is how I keep all of my plants who want to stay evenly moist happy.
You can also stick your finger at least an inch into the soil and when it is dry ( meaning that the soil doesn’t stick to your finger and doesn’t feel wet), you can water. I do this as well, but sometimes my finger has a hard time knowing the difference between soil that is cool versus wet.
The thicker-leafed Alocasia (like A. Dragonscale or Silver Dragon) seem to be able to go slightly longer between watering – likely because the plant is able to retain some water is its leaves. I can let these guys dry out completely without worrying about imminent death or leaf drop.
– Leaf Drop –
All Alocasia are very prone to dropping leaves if they aren’t watered enough. The leaves will also drop due to age, so even perfect watering habits won’t prevent some leaf drop.
However, watering consistently is particularly important when an Alocasia is pushing out a new leaf. It takes extra energy (and thus extra light and water) to grow a new leaf. If the plant isn’t getting what it needs to grow, it will absorb the nutrients and energy from its oldest leaf and drop the leaf.
– Guttation –
I have noticed that all of my Alocasia tend to guttate, or push water droplets out of the tips of their leaves, more than any other plant in my home.
This process is completely natural and not a sign, by itself, of overwatering. I do tend to use guttation as an indication that the plant doesn’t need more water at the moment, however.
In an effort to find evidence that this thought process is legitimate, I found a forum response from Aroidia Research (linked here, if you are interested) confirming what I’ve inferred!
It is good to remember that the guttation droplets are not pure water. Some people refer to the droplets as sap because it is a sticky, watery substance that has the potential to stain or damage whatever its expelled onto.
It is also important to note that guttation CAN be a sign of overwatering or lack of light. Though often you will see other indicators of overwatering simultaneously as well, like yellowing leaves, the plant becoming mushy, root rot, potting mix staying wet for long periods of time, etcetera.
Years ago, when I wasn’t as knowledgeable about houseplant care, I kept a golden pothos in the middle of my kitchen. It was 7 or 8 feet from the nearest small window and wasn’t getting enough light to use the water I was providing. I noticed the plant began to guttate profusely and eventually realized it was suffering from lack of light and too much water. Upon moving it to a brighter spot, the plant now rarely guttates (I might have made this verb up) and is still with me.
Alocasias thrive for me using either a well-balanced or Nitrogen-heavy fertilizer. Having a higher Nitrogen percentage (the first number on fertilizer packages) can foster more lush, healthy leaves.
I personally use a well-balanced fertilizer because it keeps my plants healthy and I can use it for nearly all of my plants. I typically fertilize about once a month or every few times I water during the growing season.
The fertilizer I use and love is Espoma’s Organic Indoor Plant Food (2-2-2) (linked to Amazon). I chose this one because it is organic and doesn’t have a risk of salt burn that chemical fertilizers do. Also, it can be easily sourced online and locally.
To learn more about fertilizers and find the answers to common fertilizer questions, click here to see my post.
What pest issues do Alocasias have?
Alocasias are notorious for attracting spider mites. These plants are so susceptible to spider mites that one plant seller (I think from the Internation Aroids Show footage on Legends of Monstera’s YouTube channel) explained that they place Alocasias around the other rare plants for sale so the Alocasias get spider mites and not the rarer specimens!
How can you prevent your Alocasia from catching spider mites? Well…. a lot of people argue that it isn’t possible to completely prevent spider mites, but you can minimize the chance that spider mites will overwhelm your plant by doing routine checks, pest prevention, maintaining adequate levels of humidity (which spider mites hate) and ensuring the plant is watered regularly.
Alocasias can attract all of the other common houseplant pests as well. Perhaps the most common (aside from spider mites) is aphids, thrips, and mealybugs.
Overall, if an Alocasia’s needs are met (meaning that it is provided with adequate light, substrate, and water), the chance of serious pest problems is fairly low.
Dasheen Mosaic Virus (DsMV)
Alocasias, Colocasias, and Xanthomas are all capable of contracting Dasheen Mosaic Virus (DsMV). This virus slowly weakens the plant, causing deformities and stunted growth.
This virus is very contagious, spreading easily between plants that are touching, infected tools that are used to prune multiple plants without sterilizing and drying between cuttings, or even a person’s hands/clothing that have come into contact with affected plants.
It was originally introduced and passed by aphids and does affect more plants than Elephant Ears.
“The first sign is distinct, pale green or yellow feathering between the veins. it may be in isolated sections or evenly spread over the leaf.” Robert McCracken, post linked here.
There is no cure for DsMV. The recommendation is to immediately remove the plant (either through freezing or soaking the plant in chlorinated water) and then dispose of it in a bag by itself so it cannot spread the infection.
How do you propagate an Alocasia?
Alocasias grow from rhizomes, tubers, bulbs, or corms. Though these plant parts are dwelling at or below the soil surface, they are not roots. They are modified stems.
The plant will grow multiple bulbs as part of its root system. These bulbs will sometimes begin producing a baby plant within the same pot as the mother.
What is the difference between rhizomes, tubers, bulbs, and corms? Click to expand. Rhizomes grow underground and can grow buds on the top and side where new shoots can emerge from. Rhizomes grow horizontally. Tubers cannot grow horizontally, but are able to produce new shoots from buds on the tuber. Bulbs contain a plant embryo that can emerge and grow if given the right conditions. Bulbs surround the embryo with something called scales, which are food for the embryo. Corms, like bulbs, contain a plant embryo but do not have the same type of scales that a bulb has. Whereas the bulb’s scales are fleshy and surrounding the embryo, a corm’s scales are dry and stored at the place where roots will grow from the baby plant. These plants will grow new bulbs or rhizomes and then pop up baby plants around the mother. These babies can be separated from the mother plant. You can also dig up the roots of the Alocasia and separate some of the additional bulbs in the root mass to plant and grow a new Alocasia. Micropropagation can be used to propagate Alocasia. This method of propagation involves taking a small section of the plant and placing it into a sterile growing environment where it will grow roots and shoots over time. To learn more about the interesting method of micropropagation used to quickly grow many plants, click here to view the blog post on this topic! Resources used for this article: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/weekly_Q&A/f&b-13-propagation-bulbs.htm#:~:text=Rhizomes%2C%20tubers%2C%20bulbs%20and%20corms,that%20is%20used%20for%20storage. Click to read last week’s article: How to Eradicate Aphids from Houseplants
Rhizomes grow underground and can grow buds on the top and side where new shoots can emerge from. Rhizomes grow horizontally.
Tubers cannot grow horizontally, but are able to produce new shoots from buds on the tuber.
Bulbs contain a plant embryo that can emerge and grow if given the right conditions. Bulbs surround the embryo with something called scales, which are food for the embryo.
Corms, like bulbs, contain a plant embryo but do not have the same type of scales that a bulb has. Whereas the bulb’s scales are fleshy and surrounding the embryo, a corm’s scales are dry and stored at the place where roots will grow from the baby plant.
These plants will grow new bulbs or rhizomes and then pop up baby plants around the mother. These babies can be separated from the mother plant.
You can also dig up the roots of the Alocasia and separate some of the additional bulbs in the root mass to plant and grow a new Alocasia.
Micropropagation can be used to propagate Alocasia. This method of propagation involves taking a small section of the plant and placing it into a sterile growing environment where it will grow roots and shoots over time. To learn more about the interesting method of micropropagation used to quickly grow many plants, click here to view the blog post on this topic!
Resources used for this article: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/weekly_Q&A/f&b-13-propagation-bulbs.htm#:~:text=Rhizomes%2C%20tubers%2C%20bulbs%20and%20corms,that%20is%20used%20for%20storage. Click to read last week’s article: How to Eradicate Aphids from Houseplants
Click to read last week’s article: How to Eradicate Aphids from Houseplants