Portulacaria afra (Elephant Bush) is a succulent shrub or small tree that spread horizontally with red stems and round, fleshy leaves. It…
The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
Elephant ears are tropical perennial plants grown for the appeal of the large leaves rather than for their flowers. Elephant ear is the common name is used for several species in three plant genera—Colocasia, Alocasis, and Xanthosoma. The most commonly grown plant Colocasia esculenta, also known as taro. Whatever the species, elephant ears are dramatic, exotic plants with huge heart-shaped leaves, used as accent plants or as a feature in tropical-themed water or bog gardens. While these leaves can reach 3 feet long and 2 feet wide in the tropics, in colder climates they will remain smaller (but still impressive). Depending on species, elephant ears grow from tuberous roots (Colocasia spp.) or a hard swollen stem structure known as a corm (Alocasis and Xanthosoma spp.)
In warm zones (8 and above) the root can be left in the ground as a perennial, while in colder zones the plants are either treated as annuals, discarded at the end of the season, or dug up and stored indoors for planting the following spring. In any landscape, elephant ears provide an infusion of tropical atmosphere. Some varieties are well suited for planting in large containers.
These fast-growing plants that will achieve their full size within two months are generally planted in the spring after all danger of frost has passed and soil temperatures have warmed to at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit. They can also be planted later, into early summer.
|Botanical Name||Colocasia, Alocasis, Xanthosoma spp.,|
|Common Name||Elephant ear, taro|
|Plant Type||Tropical perennial|
|Mature Size||3–8 feet tall, similar spread smaller in colder climates|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Rich, humusy, damp to wet soil|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 7.0 (acidic to neutral)|
|Bloom Time||Rarely flowers|
|Hardiness Zones||8–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Tropical eastern Asia, Americas|
|Toxicity||Leaves and sap contain a skin irritant|
Once established, elephant ears require little attention. During dry spells, you may want to water plants regularly, especially those growing in containers. Although not absolutely necessary, you may also want to apply a slow-release fertilizer to the soil periodically.
Elephant ears cannot survive winter outdoors. Freezing temperatures kill foliage and damage tubers. Therefore, in areas with harsh, cold winters (like those in northernmost regions), the plants must be dug up and stored indoors.
Cut the foliage back to about a couple of inches (5 cm.) after the first frost in your area and then carefully dig up the plants. Allow the tubers to dry out for about a day or two and then store them in peat moss or shavings. Place them in a cool, dark area such as a basement or crawlspace. Container plants can either be moved indoors or overwintered in a basement or protected porch.
In cold climates, small pots can be brought indoors and enjoyed as a houseplant during the winter. In USDA zones 8 and higher (find yours here), they can stay in the ground to return the following spring. Before the first cold snap in the fall, cut the foliage down to within a few inches of the ground. Use a digging fork or spade to lift the corms gently out of the ground. There may be baby corms, too, which you can keep or share with friends!
Let the corms dry out a bit, then place in a 5-gallon bucket of peat moss, perlite or vermiculite. If you have lifted out other tender perennials, such as dahlias, you can store them in the same bucket. Place in a cool, but not freezing place, and replant next spring when all danger of frost is past.