Go Big: Alocasia
Alocasia – or elephant ears – are BIG! And, we mean big in size, big in popularity and big in price for some rarer ones! We love how they fill our Jungle Hut and make a big statement with their bold, arrow-head shaped leaves and tall stems. Our team here at Groovy Plants Ranch wants to help you be successful in growing these big-league plants. We’ve put together a primer on their care, some tips on conquering challenges like pests and dormancy, plus a list of a few of our favorite varieties.
Imagine the first alocasia houseplant enthusiasts over a century ago. They collected alocasias brought back by Victorian-era plant hunters who sailed from Europe to tropical rainforests on islands like Borneo in South-East Asia and returned home with giant 12-foot alocasias or zebra-striped ones to grow in European glass houses. Today, there are 80 known species and many newer finds and hybrids like ‘Polly’ with exotic deeply veined leaves or ‘Black Velvet’ with soft dark leaves.
Defining Elephant Ears
Just to clear up any confusion, alocasias and colocasias are both in the arum family and share the common name, “elephant ear.” Their main visible difference is alocasia leaf tips point up, while colocasia leaf tips point down.
Alocasias prefer bright but indirect light like their native forest floor habitat. For the best results, try placing them beside an east-facing window, across a room with south or west-facing windows, or beside a sheered south- or west-facing window. The sheer helps keep the leaves from burning and gaining ugly brown spots. On the other hand, if in too low of light, alocasia leaves will yellow.
Alocasias prefer soil a little on the drier side and, like other tropical plants, require high humidity to thrive. Ideally, place them in a humid room like a bathroom or boost humidity levels with a humidifier or regular mistings. Also, try placing plants atop a tray or saucer filled with a layer of pebbles and water. Additionally, keep them from drying out by staying away from air conditioner units or heat vents.
Water as needed, when the top inch or two of the soil dries to the touch. Preferably, water until water comes out the bottom drainage hole, and be sure to empty any excess water in the saucer. With too much water, leaves will yellow. With too little moisture or humidity, leaves will droop, and edges will brown. Be aware alocasia often experience winter dormancy – a natural rest phase – then need less frequent waterings.
In summer, here in the Midwest, we like to give our alocasias a vacation outdoors. Just remember to introduce them to the outside world gradually by placing them in a shady, protected location for at least a week or two before moving them to brighter conditions.
At Groovy Plants Ranch, our top alocasia questions are typically about spider mites and yellowing leaves. For spider mites, we encourage customers to frequently check the underside of alocasia leaves for fine webbing -- a tell-tale sign of spider mites. If you spot some, take a closer look for colonies of tiny mites in red, white or brown. These leaf-suckers wreak havoc by piercing leaf tissue and sucking plants dry. To treat them, first take your plant outdoors and gently spray it with a garden hose. If it’s winter, try spraying at the kitchen sink with the faucet sprayer. Be sure not to miss the undersides. This will remove a large majority of the pests, making treatment easier. Let the plant dry, then apply a horticultural oil to smother any lingering ones. Reapply the oil two more times every 10-14 days. For more information on plant pests, see our “Conquering Plant Pests” blog post.
Yellowing alocasia leaves also can be baffling to plant parents. Don’t fret if there is new growth on your plant and the yellowing leaves are older ones at the bottom of the plant. The plant is simply shedding its old leaves to direct energy toward new growth. Conversely, if leaves are yellowing higher in the plant, check to make sure the plant is not being overwatered or positioned too far from sunlight. First, try letting the soil dry out. If the plant doesn’t improve, then try moving the plant closer to a window.
Also, be aware alocasia are toxic to pets, so keep them from eating the leaves.
At Groovy Plants Ranch, we offer a range of alocasias from popular ‘Polly’ to more rare ‘Dragon Scale.’ Here are some of our favorites:
- Alocasia ‘Bambino’ -- Unlike many other elephant ears, this alocasia stays relatively small and compact growing only one foot tall. It has ivory white veins that run through the deep green leaves with burgundy-colored backsides.
- Alocasia reginula 'Black Velvet' – This compact plant has velvety leaves with deep almost black coloring, heart shapes and silver veins.
- Alocasia baginda 'Dragon Scale' – This beauty features textured blue-green foliage with incredible venation on its undersides.
- Alocasia 'Frydek' – The mature plant features velvety heart-shaped leaves in dark green with vibrant contrasting veins. Younger leaves add more interest with their brighter lime-green coloring and purplish stems.
- Alocasia maharani 'Grey Dragon' – Like ‘Black Velvet, this compact plant is prized for its velvety leaves yet more grey-green coloring and white veins.
- Alocasia 'Mandalay' – This striking plant is a smaller version of African Mask growing to 16-20" at maturity.
- Alocasia amazonica 'Polly' Known as the African Mask Plant, this popular variety is beloved for its arrowhead-shaped leaves in dark green with white veins.
- Alocasia ‘Regal Shields’ – This giant brings a tropical flair to your home or patio with its large flat dark green leaves with red-toned undersides. This fast-growing plant is native to Africa and can reach 3 to 6 feet.
- Alocasia ‘Tiny Dancer’ – At only 14 inches, ‘Tiny Dancer’ is an unusual alocasia with tall whimsical stems and small, slightly cupped leaves.