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Proven Ways to Grow and Care for Elephant Ear Plants

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Elephant ears are flowering herbaceous plants known for their very large heart-shaped or arrow-shaped leaves on long stalks rising directly from the large corm on or just below the ground surface. They are valued mainly for their buoyant fancy foliage, some for both foliage and flowers; which provide fascinating tropical effects in any landscape. The name ‘Elephant ears’ is gotten from their large leaves, shaped like a large ear or shield reminiscent of elephant ears. The leaves come in different shapes, sizes, and colours depending on the cultivars. Elephant ear plants commonly called angel-wings or the heart of Jesus are tuberous, family Araceae with several genera, notably Colocasia, Xanthosoma, Alocasia, and Caladium. Colocasia esculentus, native to south-eastern Asia, is widely known and cultivated in other tropical and subtropical regions. Several cultivars also exist and types. Keep reading to learn more on:
  • types of elephant ear plant
  • elephant ear plant uses
  • how to care for elephant ear plants
  • growing elephant ear plants indoors
  • planting and propagation of elephant ear plants
  • how to overwinter elephant ear plants
  • major pests and diseases of elephant ear plants

Types of Elephant Ear plant

Four major types of elephant ear plants Alocasia, Colocasia, Caladium and Xanthosoma, come in different leaf shapes, sizes and patterns.  Gardeners love them because they add contrasting effect in any landscape setting.

Alocasia

Alocasia is an interesting tropical plant, having the characteristics of arrow-shaped leaves. The leaves are conspicuous, and grow to a length of 20 to 90cm on long stalks arising directly from the tubers. The genus Alocasia has about 79 varieties. Some varieties are widely cultivated for their foliage shape.
Alocasia amozonica
Alocasia macrorrhizos
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Alocasia odora
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Caladium

Caladiums are widely cultivated in tropics and subtropics as ornamentals. The heart or arrow-shaped leaves vary considerably in size, an average of 30 to 45 cm in length on long stalks arising directly from the tubers. The large leaves stand-out pointing skywards. The genus Caladium has about 7 species and over 100 cultivars widely cultivated. Several cultivars exist:
caladium miss muffet
rose glow

Caladium ‘Rose Glow’

Also known as Heart to heart, shade caladium and Caladium hortulanum is known for its decorative foliage leaf effect. The leaf colour is a blend of fancy pink originating from the centre of the leaf and spreading outwards, with marbled green along the edges. Great in any landscape settings, containers, and hanging baskets. They can be grown indoors as houseplants. Rose glow caladium can grow 12 to 24 inches long, and 10 to 18 inches wide.

Caladium ‘Carolyn Whorton’

Creates colour speckles of contrasting foliage effects in any landscape. They are greatly prized for their decorative foliage display. The leaves generally appear spotted, veined, blotched, or marbled red, pink, or green adorned with a tinge of green along the edges. A great centrepiece in containers, baskets, and bedding plants. It is an excellent indoor plant. Caladium ‘Carolyn Whorton can grow 14 to 18 inches long, and 10 to 12 inches wide.

Caladium ‘Miss Muffet’

Often grown as ornamentals in gardens. The heart-shaped leaves are spotted with pink or red on pale green. The dark pink veins bleed outwards staining the pale green background. Therefore, adding further colour contrast. A Great plant to add to any landscape especially for hanging baskets. They can be grown indoors as houseplants. Miss Muffet caladium is sun tolerant and can grow 12 inches long and wide.

Caladium ‘Pink Symphony’

Sometimes known as Fancy-leaved caladium. The leaves are all pink with just the faintest tinge of green along the veins. Pink symphony is suitable for indoor plants, bedding plants, container plants, and hanging baskets. It can grow 10 to 15 inches long, and 12 to 16 inches wide.

Caladium ‘Postman Joyner’

They are shade-loving plants, adorned with variations in colouring of leaves. The blotched pink leaves appear to originate from the centre and spread outwards, with green or shade along the edges spreading inwards as if each colour variations are struggling for dominance, thereby adding further colour contrast. ‘Postman Joyner’ Caladium will provide spectacular colour contrast to your landscape and highly used in containers and baskets.

Caladium ‘Red Flash’

caladium red flash
Generally prized for its fancy eye-catching large leaves. The leaves generally appear painted with brilliant red veining with pink or red speckles on olive green, creating a splash of the bright red effect that never ceases to amaze all season. They can be grown indoors as houseplants. ‘Red Flash’ Caladium is sun tolerant, and can grow 24 to 36 inches long and wide.

Caladium ‘Candyland’

Thrives better in partial shade, but can tolerate early morning and late afternoon direct sunlight. The leaves generally appear spotted with speckles of pink or olive green. Veins appear showy with silvery-white lines spreading outwards adorned with green along the edges. A great centrepiece in containers, baskets, and bedding plants. It is an excellent indoor plant, border plant, and container plant. Caladium ‘Candyland’ can grow 12 to 18 inches long and wide
heart to heart rose glow
caladium carolyn whorton

Colocasia

Colocasia is widely known for its large corms, leaves, and petioles. In some parts of Asia and Africa, the large corms are used as a staple food. The leaves are arrow-shaped or round-shaped and grow to a length of 20 to 150cm on long stalks arising directly from the large corm on or just below the ground surface.
colocasia black magic
black magic growing at the edge of a lake
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colocasia elena
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Xanthosoma

Xanthosoma is primarily grown as root a vegetable or as ornamentals for decorative purposes in gardens. The corms are edible. They are native to tropical America. The leaves grow to a length of 40 to 200cm on long stalks arising directly from the large corm on or just below the ground surface. From its appearance, the leaf looks like an elephant ear and varies in size and colours. A few cultivars exist namely:

Xanthosoma lindenii ‘Magnifica’

Also known as Caladium lindenii are widely grown in pots and containers for their beautiful yellowish to deep-green leaves, with cream to white along the veins and margins. Xanthosoma lindenii ‘Magnifica’ is sun tolerant, and can grow 2 to 3 feet long and wide.

Xanthosoma ‘Mousecups’

Also known as Mickey mouse taro, Pocket plant, and Variegatum monstrosum are known for their unusual white variegation effects. One of the distinctive features is the formation of small cup-like pockets at the leaf tip. The leaves first appear pale yellow, later white along the edges. Great in any landscape setting, and containers. They can be grown indoors as houseplants. Mickey mouse taro can grow 3 to 4 feet long and wide.
Xanthosoma mousecups
Xanthosoma lindenii

Xanthosoma ‘Lime Zinger’

It can tolerate early morning and late afternoon direct sunlight but thrives better in partial shade. The chartreuse leaves pointing downwards appear to glow. Avoid exposing them to too much shade, which may cause the leaves to lose their glowing ability. It is an excellent indoor plant, border plant, and container plant. Caladium ‘Lime Zinger’ can grow 2 to 4 feet long and wide.

Xanthosoma violaceum

Xanthosoma violaceum is also known as black malanga, blue ape, blue tannia, blue taro, Chinese taro, and purple elephant ear. The green leaves are adorned with purple coloration along the veins and edges. The leaf stalk carrying the arrow-shaped leaves appears black or violet.  Great in any landscape setting, and containers. They can be grown indoors as houseplants. Black malanga can grow 2 to 4 feet long and wide.

Xanthosoma brasiliense

Xanthosoma brasiliense is also known as tahitian spinach, tannia spinach, belembe, and Tahitian taro. The olive-green leaves pointing downwards are adorned with just the faintest tinge of greenish-yellow along the veins and margins. They can be grown indoors as houseplants. Tahitian spinach can grow 2 to 3 feet long and wide.
xanthosoma violaceum
xanthosoma lime zinger

Elephant Ear Plant Uses

  • Food
  • Ornamentals
  • Medicine

How to Care for Elephant Ear Plants

Light

Elephant ears flourish best when placed in the brightest light possible or part shade area, away from direct sunlight. Elephant ears subjected to a long period of direct sunlight may result in leaf burn because the plant is not accustomed to such light intensity. As a result, the leaves will generally appear bleached, losing their decorative foliage effects and coloration from your landscape. However, Caladium ‘Miss Muffet’, Caladim ‘red flash’ and, Xanthosoma Lindenii are few exceptions in that they can tolerate direct sunlight, and still retain their foliage effects.

Temperature

Ideally, Elephant ears should be exposed to a temperature range of 65°F to 75°F with a correspondingly high level of humidity, which is essential for pot plants in warmer rooms. You can Increase humidity by standing pots on trays of moist pebbles or use a humidifier and mist-spray leaves daily.

Watering

Being a tropical plant, Elephant ears need moderate watering, just enough to keep the compost moist especially during the active growth period. Reduce the frequency of watering by watering sparingly during the rest period, say once in a month. If you allow water to dry-out from the compost in-between watering the plant may go dormant. In that case, you harvest the tuber and save until the temperature gets warmer.

Feeding

Elephant ears are heavy feeders. Apply standard liquid fertilizer at half strength twice a month during the active growth period (follow feeding instructions on how to apply).

Growing Elephant Ear Plant Indoors

For success growing Elephant ears in pots or containers as well as any other indoor plants, you need to checklist these two major questions below:
  1. Is my plant healthy enough?
  2. Is my potting mix or compost right?
Getting these questions will save you lots of headaches from pest problems to a greater extent. It is often said, “your plant will only be as good as the compost they grow in.”

Choosing a healthy plant

You can decide to buy your plants from a flower shop or get them from other sources. Either way, you should checklist the following:
  • Look for firm plants with plump and unblemished leaves
  • Check to see that the compost is moist. If the compost is too dry, it’s a sign of neglect, don’t buy. It may only reveal the ill-treatment after you get it home.
  • Check the drainage hole: a few small roots shooting out from the bottom is a good sign. It is a sign of neglect if many roots are shooting out from the bottom. Because the plant is matured enough to be potted.
  • Don’t buy when the pot is packed with a mass of roots so that little soil is visible at the surface. It’s a sign of neglect, except you intend potting to a larger container almost immediately when you bring them home.
  • Ensure the pot plant is well labeled, and with a care tag on it (optional)
  • Don’t buy elephant ear leaf problems like holes, spots, etc.
  • If you see elephant ear plant drooping, please avoid it.
  • Lastly, be bold to turn and examine the leaf underneath for signs of pests and diseases. If you see any, avoid it completely.

Potting mix for Elephant Ear Plant

Choose a good quality potting mix that is well-draining to prevent waterlogging from rotting the roots. A loose soil containing a good amount of peat moss is best for Elephant ear plants. If you find it challenging creating our own special potting mixture, you can use the following recipes for your plant:
  • 2 parts sterilized rich fibrous soil
  • 1 part coarse sand
  • 1 part coarse peat moss
  • Add fertilizer according to instructions on the package (optional)

When to Repot Elephant ear plant

Never be too much in a hurry to transplant an Elephant ear plant. Repot to a larger pot, when you see plenty of roots shooting out from the base of the original pot, or when the pot is packed with a mass of roots so that little soil is visible. Established plants can be left for 1 to 2 years while topdressing with the fresh mixture every 4 to 6 months.

Potting and Repotting

Prepare a new pot that is one size larger than the original pot. Cover the drainage with pieces of bark or styrofoam or clay fragment for good drainage. To remove the plant easily from its original pot, invert the pot and tap the rim on a hard surface. Once the plant is out, look at the root-ball. If the roots are densely bound in a pattern, having the shape of the pot, break up the pattern to loosen the roots and trim off dead or damaged roots with a sterilized sharp knife or scissors. Put a little amount of potting mix inside the new pot to about an inch or two inches high, and slightly firm with your fingers. Set the plant such that the root-ball sits properly and erect, and then work-in compost around the sides, turning the pots and forcing the compost down. Once done, gently firm the compost with your fingers. Leave about 2 inches of space between the compost level and the rim of the pot to accommodate watering and future feeding or topdressing.

After potting Elephant Ear Plant

After potting, move the newly potted plant to a partially shaded area. Allow settling for one day, then reposition to a good spot where they can get adequate light before you resume moderate watering.

Propagation of Elephant Ear Plants

Elephant ears can easily be propagated by easy division in healthy plants with multiple tubers or corms. Detach the small tubers from the mother plant with care, so as not to injure the mother during spring. Ensure the tubers are potted upwards into appropriately sized pots. For example, 3 inches pots are appropriate for small tubers, and 5 inches pots for larger tubers.

How to Root Elephant ear plant

For dormant tubers, they should be buried facing upwards in the pot at about their own depth from the surface. For instance, plant a 2 inches tuber an inch below the surface.

How to Overwinter Elephant Ear Plants

It is usually not encouraged to force tropical plant to grow actively during the winter rest period. Plants like Elephant ears will suffer even if other growth factors like warmth, feeding and watering are right. The amount of daylight is basically the limiting factor. For instance, Elephant ears have an annual period of dormancy during which leaves begin to dry out and die back. So it is recommended to store-dry your elephant ears throughout the dormant period by doing the following:
  1. Cut back foliage
  2. Dig up the tubers or corms
  3. Remove dirt and allow to dry for a few days
  4. Store in a cool, dry, and dark environment

Common Pests and Diseases

Plant diseases are caused by pathogens which can either be a virus, bacteria, or fungi. Fungal attacks on plants often come from the soil and most times are difficult to treat. Every plant is prone to pests and diseases. This is particularly so for Elephant ear bulbs if not well rooted and in the best planting medium, or if plants are over-watered. It is easier to completely eradicate plant diseases if detected early. Let’s look at the major pest and disease problems associated with Elephant ear plants

Spider mites

Adult Spider mites and eggs
Spider mites are tiny sucking insects that feed on plant sap. They make silky webbing on the leaves, thereby leaving patches on leaves. The patches gradually turn pale yellow to black irregular spots. Their activities result in Elephant ear plant leaves turning yellowing and total leaf loss. Control –trim off affected leaves. Mix water, liquid dish soap, and Neem oil in a spray bottle. 5mls of Neem oil and 3 drops of dish soap.

Thrips

Thrips are small to tiny sucking insects that feed by piercing the leaf tissue and sucking out the cell content. They are translucent white, yellowish, dark-brown, black or brightly coloured in some species. Control -trim affected areas. Spray mildly using pesticides or neem oil. Repeat the treatment every 2 weeks until the 3rd application.

Mealybugs

Mealybugs are sucking insects that feed on plant sap. Their activities result in Elephant ear plant leaves turning yellowing and total leaf loss. Control –trim off some foliage to loosen up. Dip a thin boarded brush in denatured alcohol and apply it directly on the insects. For serious infestation use insecticidal soap -mix water, liquid dish soap, and neem oil in a spray bottle. 5mls of Neem oil and 3 drops of dish soap.
mealybug
thrips

Snails and Slugs

Snails are chewing organisms that leave irregular holes in leaves and flowers. Their activities if not detected early will result in great damage. Control – pick off and destroy individual snails. Apply snail pellets at the base of the plant.

Caterpillars

Caterpillar
slug
Caterpillars chew leaves and stems, making holes or notched edges. Their activities result in great damage in case of severe infestation. Control – pick off and destroy individual caterpillars. Spray mildly using pesticides or neem oil.

Leaf Spot

Infected leaves turn brown or black, sometimes with a yellow halo or lesions. The spots enlarge gradually and spread to the entire leaves. Control -trim affected areas to improve air circulation and sunlight. Apply neem oil or sulfur sprays or copper-based fungicides weekly at the first sign of disease to prevent its spread. These organic fungicides will not kill leaf spot but prevent the spores from germinating.

Leaf Blight

Late blight is caused by a fungus called Phytophthora infestans. Late blight is a serious disease that can damage the entire plant if left unattended. The Phytophthora infestans form lesions on the leaves, which are light brown or tan in colour, irregular in shape, and can be found anywhere on the plant especially at the top part of young leaves. The fungus spreads slowly to the entire plant. The leaves turn brown, shrivel, and die. Control -trim affected areas to improve air circulation and sunlight. Apply sulfur sprays or copper-based fungicides weekly at first sign of disease to prevent its spread. If you see no improvement after the treatments, harvest the plant from the ground into an air-tight plastic bag and trash.
leafspot
leaf blight