Tropical plants in the Alocasia genus feature stunning foliage that can become the centerpiece of a garden or room. Large rhizomes or tubers produce enormous heart-shaped or arrow-shaped ears, leading to the popular common name, elephant's ear. They are most often grown as houseplants, but it's common to bring them outdoors during the warm months, sometimes burying the entire pot in the ground to create a natural look.
Alocasias can grow very fast, and in the right conditions, some species are considered invasive, especially along the gulf coast of the United States. Thus, verify with your local municipality before planting this species outdoors in the garden. If you have children or pets, you might want to avoid these plants altogether because the leaves are toxic to humans and animals.
|Common Name||Alocasia, elephant ear|
|Family||Araceae, or Aroid|
|Plant Type||Perennial, herbaceous rhizome|
|Mature Size||2–15 ft. tall, 2–8 ft. spread (depends on species and variety)|
|Sun Exposure||Bright indirect light indoors; part shade outdoors|
|Soil Type||Loose, well-draining potting mix or crumbly loam|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 6.5 (slightly acidic)|
|Bloom Time||Spring and summer|
|Flower Color||Light butter-yellow (flowers are not showy)|
|Hardiness Zones||10–11 (USDA)|
|Native Areas||Tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, eastern Australia|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs, toxic to cats, toxic to people|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Alocasia Plants
Elephant's Ear Care
Even with a short growing season in northern climates, these plants can grow rapidly. In the warm summer months, Alocasia plants can produce a new leaf every week, and each new leaf can be twice the size of the previous week's. The leaf shapes can vary from slim arrowheads to wide heart-shaped leaves that have colorful veins and a variety of textures: thick, waxy, slick, and glossy.
Once the plant is in its dormant period (in the late fall and winter), it will begin resting. The rapid leaf growth will stop and the plant will likely remain as-is throughout the winter season. Continue to care for it, and the rapid growth will return the following growing season.
Needs vary from shade to full sunlight, depending on the variety. Ask the grower or seller if the plant is sun-trained. Leaf color tends to be better among plants that grow best with more light.
Most Alocasia species will survive in shade, but they often appreciate slightly brighter filtered sunlight. The bigger varieties can be trained to handle the full tropical sun.
Plant elephant's ear in loose, well-drained potting mix or crumbly loamy soil.
Keep Alocasia plants moist all year; they are water-loving plants. There is a fine line with these plants. You want to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. They require less water during the winter months because the plant is dormant.
Allow the top few inches of soil to become nearly dry before watering. This will help keep the soil evenly moist. Soggy soil makes the plant susceptible to fungal infections.
Temperature and Humidity
Elephant ear plants will suffer below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Some varieties will die back during colder weather and re-sprout from the rhizome. They require, and thrive in, very humid environments. To raise the humidity around your plant, place it on a tray filled with pebbles and then add water until it rises to just below the bottom of the pot. Keep them away from cold drafts from windows, doors, and air conditioning.
Alocasias can be heavy feeders, especially large specimens. Feed with liquid fertilizer during the growing season or frequent, small applications of granule fertilizer.
Types of Elephant Ear
- 'Kris': has extremely dark green foliage, and long pointed leaves with white veins and scalloped white edges
- 'Zebrina': boasts arrow-shaped leaves and leggy, zebra-like stalks
- 'Giant Taro': features growth up to 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide, with leaves that can reach 3 to 4 feet long and 2 to 4 feet wide
- 'Silver Dragon': offers silvery-green leaves and deep-green veins
Pruning your Alocasia is as easy as trimming away its faded leaves.
Most Alocasia plants can be propagated by clump or rhizome division. Cut off a piece of the underground rhizome and pot it up separately. Keep it warm and moist until new growth begins.
Potting and Repotting Elephant's Ear
Repot Alocasia varieties annually into larger pots with fresh, free-draining potting soil. Also, it's best to divide the rhizome annually to keep the plant a manageable size and increase your collection.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
While quite striking, these plants can be quite sensitive to a variety of diseases including crown, stem, and root rot, leaf spot, and Xanthomonas infection. Signs of diseases are typically black or dark brown spots on the leaves and a yellowish rim around the spots. You can prevent disease with proper watering practices; do not overwater these plants. Keep the foliage dry and provide proper air circulation around and near the plant.
Common pests of Alocasia include mealybugs, scale, aphids, and spider mites. Every few weeks, spray the plant with warm soapy water to prevent these pests and keep the plant dust-free. If an infestation occurs, use ultra-fine insecticide oil or neem oil. These products will kill the pests and their eggs.
How to Get Elephant's Ear to Bloom
Alocasias, when they bloom, flower with a typical spathe and spadix, but the flower is usually unremarkable. Anecdotally, these plants bloom in the spring after they've been brought outside, but elephant ears are really grown more for their foliage.
Common Problems With Elephant's Ear
Elephant ears are easy plants to grow, so long as you give them the right amount of light and water they need to thrive. Having problems with yours? Hopefully, these fixes will help you.
There are several reasons why your elephant's ear could be getting yellow leaves. It's likely a watering issue—too much, or possibly too little, can cause leaves to discolor this way. Elephant ears drink a lot; several inches of water a week. If you're giving them less or more, that might be the reason for the yellowing.
They also need a good amount of sunlight, and if they're getting less than the desired amount this can cause leaf yellowing. Their leaves also can turn yellow if they're in too small a pot: when was the last time you replanted? Are they potbound? Repotting might be the answer. Finally, elephant ears may go dormant.
Shriveled or drooping leaves
Sometimes elephant ear's leaves droop or shrivel because they have too much or too little light or fertilizer. Adjust accordingly and your plant will reward you with healthy foliage!
Are elephant's ear plants easy to care for?
Yes! With the right amount of sunlight and water, an elephant's ear is an easy plant to own.
How fast do elephant's ear plants grow?
Very! Elephant's ear is a fast-growing plant.
Can elephant's ear plants outside?
Absolutely! Alocasia can grow both indoors and out depending on the climate where you live.
Alocasia. Alocasia (Elephant's-Ear, Giant Taro) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. (n.d.). https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/alocasia/.
“Alocasia.” ASPCA. www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/alocasia.