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Organic Answers Column - May 11, 2022


Alocasia and Colocasia: Hardy Elephant Ears in North Texas

 

If you're wanting to landscape using impressive plants with dramatic foliage you will find exactly what you want with Alocasia and Colocasia, both better known as elephant ears. These plants have huge leaves that can measure up to 2 feet across with foliage colors ranging from lime green to almost black. Upright elephant ears (Alocasia) have shiny leaves with raised veins and often display colorful variegations. They can be grown indoors as well as out. Colocasia, or Taro, has a more spreading habit, as their leaves typically have a velvety surface texture and veins are not raised.

 


Alocasia

 

Because of bad advice, many think these plants are not hardy here in north Texas. Some publications and some people say that they are only perennial in hardiness zones are 10-11 and recommend digging and storing the bulbs inside in winter. I don’t agree at all; in my experience they are much tougher than that.

 

Along the banks of Turtle Creek in Dallas there are Colocasia that have perennialized and are thriving there since way before the harsh freezing during the 83'-84' winter. My Alocasias have been in the ground outside for well over 10 years. Of course mine have been under an organic program and that adds about a zone of hardiness for all plants. The only winters that have caused some damage are those where the temperature drops 50 degrees in 24 hours and the plants aren’t mulched well.

 


Alocasia

Colocasia

 

These perennials should be used in shade or filtered sun. They need loose, moist highly organic soil for best results. Telling the two apart tricked me for a while, but now I have an easy way to remember. The leaves of Alocasia stand up dramatically erect. They resemble "As" and that’s how I remember the difference between this plant and Colocasia that conveniently has an arching "C" shape. The shininess of Alocasia is also an easy feature difference to remember.

 


Colocasia

Alocasia

 

Like perennials, these plants do both die back in the winter, but the management is quite easy. Elephant ears, bananas, Hoja santa and other large leaf perennials should be cut off after hard freeze damage leaving 2-3" stumps. Cover those stumps with shredded mulch. Unless the roots stay too wet during the winter from frequent rains or poor drainage, the plants will be back next spring to once again put on a show. Some gardeners put a piece of old carpet over the stumps and the mulch on top of that if they are concerned about the moisture rotting the crown of the plants. I don’t do that.

 

These two plants have strong, big textures so be careful about where they are planted, but they are definitely worth a try.

 


Alocasia

 

Here are links to more information about these interesting plants.

 

Alocasia - https://www.dirtdoctor.com/garden/Alocasia_vq13082.htm

 

Colocasia - https://www.dirtdoctor.com/garden/Colocasia_vq13083.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

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