How to Grow and Care for Elephant's Ear (Alocasia)

alocasia house plant

The Spruce / Cori Sears 

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.

Fast-growing Alocasia plants 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.

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
Botanical Name Alocasia spp.
Family Araceae, or Aroid
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Mature Size 2–9 ft. tall, 2-9 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 Slightly acidic (5.5 to 6.5)
Bloom Time Spring and summer
Flower Color Light butter-yellow (flowers are not showy)
Hardiness Zones 10–12 (USDA)
Native Areas Tropical regions of Asia
Toxicity Toxic to dogs, cats, and humans
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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.

Warning

Some species of Alocasia 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.

alocasia pups
The Spruce / Cori Sears  
Alocasia macrorrhizos leaves
The Spruce / Corinne Bryson
Closeup of an alocasia amazonica leaf
The Spruce / Corinne Bryson
An alocasia macrorrhizos leaf
The Spruce / Corinne Bryson

Light

Light requirements vary from shade to full sunlight, depending on the species and 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.

Soil

Plant elephant's ear in loose, well-drained potting mix or in a crumbly loamy soil. They have a preference for slightly acidic soil, which is provided by a standard peat-based potting mix.

Water

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.

Fertilizer

Alocasia can be heavy feeders, especially large specimens. Feed with liquid fertilizer once or twice a month; a 20-20-20 formulation is recommended during the growing season.

Types of Elephant Ear

There are nearly 100 species of Alocasia, and a surprisingly large number are used as houseplants. Here are some favorite species and cultivars:

  • A. macrorhiza (giant taro) is the largest of the houseplant species, growing up to 15 feet tall with 3- to 4-foot long leaves.
  • A. longiloba (tiger taro) has dark gray-green leaves with white veins. It usually grows to no more than about three feet tall.
  • A. cuprea 'Red Secret' is a 3-foot-tall plant with metallic bronze-red leaves.
  • A. amazonica (Polly alocasia) is a compact 18-inch plant with wavy, arrow-shaped red leaves.
  • Alocasia 'Zebrina' is a hybrid cultivar with arrow-shaped leaves and leggy, zebra-like stalks. Initially a fairly small plant, it can grow surprisingly large with time.
  • A . reginula 'Black Velvet' is a striking dark green plant with white veins. It is a nice compact plant that generally stays under 18 inches.

Pruning

Pruning your Alocasia is as easy as trimming away its faded leaves. It is normal for leaves to shrivel and die as new leaves appear.

Propagating Alocasia

Most Alocasia plants can be propagated by clump or rhizome division, something that's easy to do and will give you many more plants. Do this task in the spring, since that's a time of growth for the plants and will let you expand this plant's overage in your garden.

  1. Use a trowel to dig up your plant and choose root clumps that have gotten bigger over time, assuring there are plenty of rhizomes to divide.
  2. With clean pruners, cut off pieces of the underground rhizome and pot them up separately in a moist potting mix.
  3. Keep pots warm and moist until new growth begins, usually a couple of weeks. They are ready to be potted when you tug at them and they have enough roots to resist.

How to Grow Elephant's Ear From Seed

This plant is very easy to propagate quickly by root division, so seed propagation isn't often utilized. But if you have a mature plant that does flower and produces seed pods, then you can extract the seeds from the dried pods and plant them in a rich, peat-based potting mix. Sow the seeds on the surface, then sprinkle a thin layer of additional potting mix over them. Keep the potting mix damp but not soggy until they sprout.

But be patient, as it can take years to nurture seedlings into full-sized plants with the characteristic huge leaves.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Alocasia plants are not commonly victim to disease. However, most Alocasia species are prone to spider mites. Their large leaves are also at risk of being torn by strong winds, so you may want to keep them in a protected area, especially during storms.

How to Get Elephant's Ear to Bloom

Alocasia plants are grown more for their foliage than their flowers, but it's common for them to bloom in the spring after they've been brought outside, more often with older mature plants than with young specimens. The flowers are unremarkable, but if you want to try to coax flowers for the benefit of seeds, then make sure your plants are getting some outdoor time in the spring and summer.

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. Have problems with yours? Hopefully, these fixes will help.

Yellowing leaves

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. Active growth often returns when the plant is taken outdoors in spring.

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.

FAQ
  • How long does an elephant's ear plant live?

    With so many species to choose from, the lifespan will vary from type to type. However, with regular repotting and division, you can keep your plant alive for many decades.

  • Why are my leaves turning brown?

    Elephant's ear plants like warmth, but they don't really care much for direct sunlight. Direct sunlight may cause the leaves to turn brown and die. Find a spot that's still bright but not in direct sunlight.

  • Why do the leaves keep dying?

    There's a good chance there's nothing wrong at all. Elephant's ear plants are very fast-growing, and they will naturally lose leaves as they are producing new ones. Simply trim off the leaves that begin to lean and collapse.

  • How should I use this plant in my decor?

    Elephant's ear plants are so striking and geometric that they tend to work best in modern decor styles, or in tropical-themed rooms.

Article Sources
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  1. Alocasia. North Carolina State Extension.