Amazon Elephant's Ear (African Mask) Plant

Amazon Elephant's Ear (Alocasia Amazonica)

By Lazaregagnidze (Own work) [ CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hailing from Southeast Asia, this popular elephant's ear (Alocasia amazonica, part of the Alocasia genus) is sometimes called African Mask. It's a hybrid that has become a fairly popular ornamental houseplant and is one of the easiest to find and buy. A striking and beautiful houseplant, it is defined by its deep green leaves accentuated by whitish or light green veins. The leaves are roughly serrated, and in some cases, the leaf color appears as an almost purple-green. Leaf shapes range from wide hearts to slim arrowheads, with textures from slick and glossy to thick and waxy. It is a fleshy evergreen that grows from underground corms. These plants rarely bloom, however, and are grown primarily for their foliage. 

  • Botanical Name: Alocasia amazonica
  • Common Name: Elephant's Ear, African Mask
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Mature Size: 2 to 6 feet tall and 2 to 6 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: Part sun
  • Soil Type: Clay, loamy, sandy
  • Soil pH: 5.5 to 6.5
  • Bloom Time: Spring and summer
  • Flower Color: Green spathe (rarely seen)
  • Hardiness Zones: 9 to 11
  • Native Area: Southeast Asia

How to Grow Amazon Elephant's Ear

Amazon elephant ears are striking, with dramatic and unique two-tone leaf coloration. Growing elephant ears is easy—they like filtered sun or shade and rich, moist soil—and they grow rapidly. A large specimen may grow up to 3 feet but most are smaller. Like most tropical plants, they thrive in warm temperatures and high humidity and crave plenty of water. Cut away dead and dying leaves for the best presentation, and keep an eye out for mites.

Light

These plants require bright, indirect light. They can survive in 80 percent shade but prefer about 60 percent shade. Do not expose to strong, direct sunlight.

Water

Keep the soil moist but remember that Alocasias do not like wet feet. If possible, water in the morning (so they are dry overnight) and from below, at the root zone, to keep the leaves from getting too wet. This plant needs a rest period in winter when you should allow the soil to become almost dry between waterings and stop fertilizing. If it dries completely it may go dormant, but if it does you may be able to dig up the corm and save it until warmer conditions are possible. 

Temperature and Humidity

Being a tropical plant, Amazon elephant's ear will go dormant or die if exposed to cold. It likes to be in a climate similar to its native Southeast Asia: a temperature between 65 F and 75 Fahrenheit and above-average humidity is ideal. You may need to raise the humidity levels in a room artificially by placing the plant in a humidity tray with pebbles or use a humidifier.

Soil

This plant prefers a fast-draining, well-aerated potting soil. An organic, loose soil that contains a good amount of peat moss is ideal. If needed, add some builder's sand or Perlite to lighten a heavier soil.

Fertilizer 

Amazon elephant's ear tends to be a heavy feeder during its growing period and will respond well to applications of diluted balanced fertilizer. Starting in spring, feed the plant every two weeks. Stop the end of August, then start the cycle again at the beginning of the next spring. Occasionally, the leaves will yellow; if this happens, try adding fertilizer with micronutrients or sprinkle Epsom salts around the base of the plant once a month.

Propagation

These plants are best propagated by division during re-potting in spring. In a healthy specimen with multiple stems, corms can be dug up from the existing pot and repotted into smaller pots.

Potting and Repotting

A well-grown plant may need yearly re-potting. Keep in mind, however, that these plants like to be slightly under-potted for best foliage development.

1:07

Watch Now: Everything You Need to Know about Elephant Ears

Toxicity

Elephant's ear is a poisonous houseplant and should be kept away from children and pets that may eat or bite at the plant. In humans, symptoms of elephant's ear poisoning include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Redness, pain, and burning of the eyes
  • Severe burning in the mouth and throat
  • Swelling of the tongue, mouth, and eyes

Dogs and cats may experience:

  • Oral irritation
  • Pain and swelling of mouth, tongue, and lips
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty swallowing

If a person or pet is poisoned by elephant's ear, call poison control or go to the emergency room or veterinarian right away. Most symptoms will disappear within several days to a week if treated correctly.

Growing in Containers

When growing elephant's ears in pots, choose a stable container with ample room to support the plant's growth. Alocasias look great in mixed containers, with other foliage plants and flowering annuals that like filtered sunlight and moist soil. The larger varieties add drama to a big pot.

When cold weather sets in, move container-grown elephant's ears inside and enjoy them as houseplants.

Common Pests and Diseases

Amazon elephant's ear is typically not susceptible to diseases but over-watering can lead to fungal infections. If you notice dark brown or black spots with a yellowish rim on the leaves, remove the damaged leaves, move the plant away from your other plants, and treat with a fungicide spray. Mist it with a soapy water mixture every few weeks to help deter pests—such as mealy bugs, spider mites, and aphids—and to keep your elephant's ear dust-free.