The Elephant Ears plant is the common name for the genus Colocasia. A perennial tuber coming from the tropical swamplands.
Elephant ear bulbs or tubers are grown in Northern and Southern gardens primarily for their very decorative, ornamental foliage, and need lots of room.
Their large heart shaped leaves, resembling a shield can reach 3 to almost 4 feet in length and overall plant heights of 6-7 feet.
Grown indoors flowering is rare, outdoors once established, the small green sheath holding a greenish-yellow cob of flowers is common. The plant has no special scent.
Light and Temperature
Some elephant ear varieties such as Colocasia esculenta can handle full sun when grown outdoors. Leaves may burn at first but once acclimated to the sunlight will do fine.
However, by providing a light shade but still strong light, plants can grow massive.
Indoors provide as much light as possible. Good strong light is important to produce strong stems to hold up the large elephant ear leaves.
Regular room temperatures are fine and the plant is able to tolerate temps into the 60 degree range.
Overall, it is best to grow the plant outside during the summer.
Watering and Feeding
When growing elephant ears, remember they crave water. They are a swamp plant that develop a good, hardy, root system under water.
This is why the Colocasia finds itself “dressing up” shallow back yard ponds and a good option for those looking for landscape plants to plant in wet areas.
Being a fast grower, they are also heavy feeders. They can be feed at every watering and responds well to foliar fertilizers and fertilizers need to be high in nitrogen.
Planting Elephant Ears
When growing any of the varieties but especially Colocasia esculenta you’ll need to plant them in the ground or in a large container, for several reasons.
- Colocasia esculenta can grow very large. To support its size it needs space to accommodate the root system.
- The soil needs to stay very moist and wet all the time. The soil should never dry out
- Stability… The large leaves and leaf canopy makes the plant top heavy and can easily allow the plant to be blown over.
The soil should hold water well with lots of organic material.
In the spring as stored tubers begin to sprout and grow, place tubers in pots just big enough to hold them in a potting mixture of peat moss and sand or something similar.
The pots are just to get them started for planting outdoors when the weather has warmed up. Keep soil moist.
When planting outdoors give them plenty of space, approximately 3 – 6 feet between plants. During summer months provide them lots of water.
The only “grooming” required is to remove old leaves as they die off and withered material in the fall season before winter arrives.
Use offset tubers which the parent plant has grown during the course of the summer.
Landscape Uses For Elephant Ears
These large ornamental plants can be very impressive when placed and grown outside in a sheltered location during the summer. Especially in northern locations they provide a very tropical landscape look even for a short period and make good additions near water features.
They can live outdoors all year in USDA Zones 8 – 11. In these year-round growing areas some consider the elephant ears to be an invasive plant.
In northern climates, they can be treated more as annuals where the elephant ears bulbs or tubers are stored over winter for the next growing season.
Over Wintering Elephant Ear Bulbs
Plants growing in the ground:
After the first frost has hit…
- Dig out the elephant ears plants growing in the landscape/garden
- Cut off and remove all foliage
- Store tubers with soil attached at a temperature around 45- 55 degrees until spring growing season (after frost possibilities have past)
Plants growing in pots:
- When leaves of plants start turning yellow
- Begin to withhold water until plants have died down
- Keep soil very dry
- Store pots with tubers in a basement or garage at temperature between 45-55 degrees until spring growing season (after frost possibilities have past).
- Check tuber to make sure they do not dry out or rot.
Propagation by division of tuberous roots at spring potting time.
Colocasia esculenta (Taro or Dasheen) – “esculent” meaning edible, is grown not only for ornamental purposes. It is also widely grown like rice around the world for its large edible, starchy tubers and is an important food source.
The plant must be properly cooked before eating otherwise it can be upset the stomach. The sap can irritate the skin.
Colocasia antiquorum, an ornamental species with very large leaves has variations displaying margins and veinings of purple, sometimes called the “black elephant ears.”
This is probably the elephants ear formerly known and sometimes still listed as Caladium esculentum.
Elephant Ear Pest and Problems
Colocasia plants are very robust growers and drink a lot of water, it is a thirsty plant. Never allow the plant to dry out.
It is susceptible to a few of the common garden pests. Spider mites love the texture of the elephant ear leaf, especially the the plant grows where the air is very dry.
Look for typical spider mite webbing under the leaves. Try rinsing the plant thoroughly with a good blast of water.
If needed treat with a miticide. Follow the label!
Thrips can attack leaves and suck the juices out of the plant and develops silvery pale patches on the leaves.
Frequent misting will help keep the thrips away.
Spray with insecticide if required.
If you are looking for a landscape with a tropical look and feel or in need of plants for wet areas… check out Colocasia – the elephant ear plants.