Gardening

Elephant’s Ear

Elephant’s Ear: Silvery-Green Veins That Streak Across The Leaves

Elephant's EarAlocasia x amazonica is referred to as Alocasia Polly.  Common names include: African mask, elephant’s ear, or Amazon taro. It is easily identifiable by the glossy, dark green leaves shaped like scalloped arrows, the Alocasia x amazonica plant gets its dramatically striking appearance from the bold silvery-green veins that streak across the leaves. Elephant’s Ear is not a plant for amateurs, success is found in warm temperatures and consistent humidity; it can thrive in an outdoor environments like the San Francisco Bay Area. Those of us in the country living where weather can be more extreme it is considered an indoor plant.

Elephant’s ear will produce flowers on occasion, however it’s not grown for this reason, it is all about the foliage. The impressive and stunning leaves are arrowhead or shield shaped with large protruding white veins running through the wonderful dark green leaves.  Thick, upright stems carry these arrow-shaped leaves with scalloped edges.

Elephant’s ear grows from rhizomes, which can be divided in spring for more plants. Each rhizome produces several leaves that grow to 12 inches long, making elephant’s ear a sassy, new accent for your home.  This plant provides more oomph if placed on a pedestal stand to show it off properly.

Just like other members of the Araceae family, the flowers are composed of a spadix surrounded by a spathe. On this plant, however, they are insignificant. It’s the spectacular foliage that makes this tropical native well worth growing.  Few indoor plants are as eye-catching as this one, even with a mature height of just 24 inches. Elephant’s ear will thrive when placed in a bright location and kept warm all year. With good care, you’ll enjoy this exotic house plant a long time.

How To Make Your Elephant’s Ear Thrive

Alocasia is the species and there are many varieties and hybrids, however the only one grown as a house plant is “Polly” or “Amazonica”. Some people will argue that they are different varieties or hybrids and “Polly” is easier to grow although this isn’t really true.  Scientifically “Amazonica” was the original and is believed to have started appearing in homes in the 1950s, a few years later along came “Poly”, when a smaller variation of “Amazonica” was found. The name “Poly” was changed to “Polly” for commercial (and obvious) marketing reasons by nurserymen when the plants appeal increased and started to be sold as a house plant. Should you grow the two plants side by side the only difference you will find is “Polly” tends to be smaller than “Amazonica”.

Under ideal circumstances there would probably be more fans of this plant. The problem is that Alocasia can be quite difficult to keep alive as it will not accept sub-standard care or incorrect conditions for very long. Consequently the plant inevitably dies and the owner doesn’t try to grow them again or recommend it to anyone.

Another issue with elephant’s ear is it can enter into a dormant state with die back during the winter. Although it comes back in spring it can disappoint people to have a house plant which is not “there” for the whole year.

Care Information

  • Elephant’s ear prefers the high humidity of a greenhouse to an average home. However, a room humidifier and frequent misting of the leaves will give it the moist air it craves. Regular misting also helps to keep away red spider mites that are attracted to dry conditions.
  • Use a container with drainage holes to prevent root rot.
  • Give your elephant’s ear a rest period in winter, allowing the soil to become almost dry between waterings and you stop fertilizing.
  • If it goes dormat don’t give up on it,  it’ll recuperate in a month or two with good care. Continue to provide plenty of humidity with a pebble tray or misting every day.

Secrets Of Success

Light

Avoid direct Sunlight and very dark and gloomy spots. Locations which fall between these two extremes are just perfect.

Watering

Compost must be kept moist at all times. It dislikes dryness at the roots, but too much water will cause the roots to rot. Planting medium should be moist, not dry or soggy. Unlike conventional house plant watering wisdom the best approach is to water just a little, and often. If you can, make an effort to use tepid rain water.

Humidity

Another reason for this plant failing in a home environment is because of very dry air. It’s a tropical plant and needs reasonable to high humidity. Place plant on a moist pebble tray to allow for adequate moisture and drainage, as well as to increase humidity.

Feeding

A weak all-purpose feed should be applied once a month. Don’t bother to feed in winter unless the plant is activity growing (new leaves are appearing). Definitely do not feed if your elephant’s ear enters a die back type of dormancy.

Temperature

Your plant needs a warm spot; no lower than 60°year round.  Occasional dips below this will be tolerated, but longer periods will cause problems and encourage dormancy.

Re-Potting

This is not normally needed, but if the plant has produced lots of offsets, or it has outgrown its pot it’s a good idea. Spring is the best time to re-pot.

Propagation

You can remove any offsets when you re-pot. The adult plant will forgive an autumn/fall re-potting, but if you are re-potting because you want to propagate the offsets, it should be done in spring.

Pests and Disease

Examine your elephant’s ear at least two times a week for pests, which typically include aphids and spider mites. Aphids often accumulate in dense groups on the plant’s leaves or stem. Spider mites typically live in colonies on the underside of the plant’s leaves. They leave a small webbing on the plant that is usually easy to identify. If pests are identified, treat them using chemicals or predatory insects.

Flowers

Flowers appear once in a while on a well looked after plant, they are quite insignificant. The focus of this plant should be maintaining its beautiful foliage.

Die-Back

It is possible to enter a period of die back, or dormancy do to shorter days with cooler temperatures. You may be able to avoid this if the plant is moved to a warmer spot as winter approaches. If it enters dormancy anyway don’t panic, all you have to do is follow the same care guides for a growing one. The only difference is less watering and no feeding until new shoots come back in spring.

Quick Facts

  • Height: 24 Inches
  • Light: Bright light, but not direct sunlight
  • Soil: Peat moss based potting mix.
  • Water: Water regularly so that the soil is always at least lightly to moderately moist and never dry.
  • Temperature: Minimum of 60 degrees to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Fertilizer: Fertilize with a general purpose e fertilizer several times a year
  • Speed of Growth: Moderate
  • Fertilizer: Feed every 2 weeks spring through fall with a 20-10-10 liquid fertilizer diluted by half. Do not feed in winter.
  • Pests: Spider mites, scale, mealybugs, aphids
  • Propagation: Division
  • Pruning: Pruning for size or shape or size not required

Photo Search

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