Alocasias have arguably the most impressive foliage of any plant. What a bonus then that these tropicals can be grown indoors! They can be a little finicky about their care, but with the right knowledge, these outstanding perennials can thrive in any home. Read on to learn more.
Alocasia plants are perennial tropical aroids from Southeast Asia and Australasia. There are at least 113 different Alocasia species, with dozens more known that are still to be described. This family of plants is very popular among houseplant enthusiasts and contains many other familiar plants like the ZZ plants, Pothos and Aglaonemas.
These plants typically grow in the understory of wet tropical forests, in low light conditions. Some species, like the taros, are grown for food production. Many hybrids and cultivars have also been developed to create new and exciting plants.
One important thing to note about these aroids is that they contain calcium oxalates which are tiny, irritating crystals. If eaten, these crystals can cause serious discomfort, and can also irritate the skin of some individuals.
Alocasia plants grow from an underground rhizome and spread by stolons. Although they can flower under the right conditions, these plants are generally grown for their attractive foliage. Their leaves vary in shape, size, and color between species. They are often multicolored, with variegated patterns, and bold venation. The underside of the leaf is frequently a different and often more colorful shade.
One species, Alocasia robusta, may very well be the plant with the largest undivided leaf on the planet, with individual leaves reaching over 6 feet (1.8m) across and 9 feet (2.7m) long. These enormous leaves grow from long petioles attached to the rhizome and their size has given them the common name of elephant’s ears.
|Scientific name||Alocasia species|
|Common names||Elephant’s ear, Taro, Kris plant|
|Plant Type||Aroid, perennial, house plant, container plant, garden plant|
|Height and Width||Species dependent, 2–10 ft. tall (indoors), 1–10 ft. wide (indoors)|
|Origin||South East Asia, Indian subcontinent, Australasia|
|Flower colors||Green, yellow, cream, white|
|Foliage color||Various shades of green, purple, black, maroon|
|Sun Exposure||Partial sun or bright indirect light|
|Soil Type & pH||Well-drained, coarse, acidic soil|
|Special features||Large foliage, fast grower, stunning foliage|
How to Grow Alocasia Houseplants
Alocasias are fast-growing, tropical plants that do equally well outdoors in warm climates as they do when grown indoors. Many growers choose to grow these perennials outdoors, overwintering them inside in cool climates. If you live in zone 8b or above, you can leave the plant outside, but expect it to die back in the winter if you get frost.
Alocasias grow from underground structures known as rhizomes. These can be divided to create clones of the parent plant. This is a fast and easy way to grow new plants.
It is best to divide the plant when it is actively growing and most resilient. As with pruning, it is very important that your cutting tool has been sterilized with isopropyl alcohol or chlorine bleach to prevent introducing pathogens.
Alocasia plants will also produce plantlets from the rhizome. It is best to wait for these corms to produce their own leaves before separating them for the best results. These plants can, of course, be grown from seed but this is a slower process and only possible if your plant produces viable seeds or you are able to source them elsewhere.
Alocasia plants thrive in a loose, nutrient-rich substrate with a slightly acidic pH. They can be grown in regular potting soil or you can prepare your own growing medium. Peat-based mediums are a good choice, especially if improved with a coarse material like orchid bark to improve aeration and perlite to improve drainage
Alocasia plants do not require pruning except for the removal of any old or unhealthy leaves
New leaves are produced often and old leaves die off regularly. A dying leaf will droop away from the other healthy upright stalks and begin to change color.
You can allow the Alocasia plant to reabsorb some of the nutrients from the dying leaf or remove it right away. Be sure to remove any dead material that collects on the soil surface to keep pests away. As always, be sure to sanitize your tools, especially if you use them on other plants.
Alocasias do flower occasionally, but the typical spathe and spadix flower is not particularly showy. Many growers will choose to prune off the flower as flower production uses considerable energy at the expense of foliage growth.
Repotting and Transplanting
Alocasias are fast-growing plants that will need to be transplanted once they have outgrown their container. You might need to do this as often as once a year, but it is a simple process.
Consider repotting the plant into an unglazed ceramic container when the time comes as this will improve drainage and aeration of the soil. Other materials work well too provided the container has drainage holes.
While you are repotting, look out for plantlets that have grown their own corm because they are easily separated at this time. It is best to transplant the elephant ears plants when they are actively growing and healthy, that way they are better able to handle and adapt to the stress of the move.
How to Care for Alocasia Plant
Alocasia plants can be a little challenging to keep happy. They are tropical plants that require a warm, humid environment to grow well indoors. A happy Alocasia is a very fast-growing plant.
Elephant’s ear plants that are not happy with the conditions provided will let you know by dropping leaves and entering dormancy. This is not necessarily the end of the road for the plant, but it is a sure sign that something is amiss. Remember, these plants grow fast, so If you address the problem the plant should bounce right back in no time.
Alocasia plants prefer moist, but not wet conditions. They have very large leaves which can result in a high rate of water use through evapotranspiration.
To keep your plant well watered, simply monitor the soil moisture for clues as to when it’s time to provide water. Allow the soil surface to dry out slightly before watering, but do not allow the soil to dry out completely.
The actual timing between waterings will vary based on the size and growth rate of the plant, the type of soil and container it is grown in, and many other factors. Even though they are evergreen, these plants tend to enter a dormancy period during the winter. Their water demand will drop at this time.
Alocasia plants are adapted to live in the shade of taller plants and trees. They should not be exposed to strong, direct sunlight as this can scorch the leaves. A position near an east or north-facing window would be suitable, as would a position near a west or south-facing window where the light is filtered by a thin curtain.
The plant might lean towards the sunlight, so you may wish to rotate the pot regularly to keep it upright. Alternatively, you can provide a stake and tie the plant loosely to keep it straight.
Temperature and Humidity
These tropical plants require warm temperatures to really grow at their best. Temperatures from about 65°F and above would be considered ideal, and should not drop below about 60°F. They can survive outdoors from zones 8B and above. In low temperatures, they will defoliate and become dormant until warm conditions return.
Warm temperatures aren’t the only important environmental condition for success. These plants need a humid environment too.
There are many ways to increase the humidity around your Alocasia plant. One way is to position the plant in an area of the home that is naturally humid. The bathroom and kitchen tend to be more humid than other areas of the house because of the plumbing and natural evaporation of water in these rooms.
A large group of houseplants will also help to create a more humid microclimate through transpiration. If you plan on growing the Alocasia elephant ear plant in a dry area of the home, the use of a humidifier would be the best option, but you can also grow the plant on a wet pebble tray.
Alocasia plants can be fairly heavy feeders as a result of their large leaves and fast growth rate. Fertilizing the plant lightly every month or two with a balanced slow release fertilizer is all you will need to do. They do not need to be fertilized during the dormant period, so let them rest until growth resumes in the spring and summer.
Pest and diseases
Alocasia plants are not especially prone to any major pests. Keep an eye on your plants, however, and take steps before any problems become serious. Pest infestations are often an indication of one or more stresses on the plant.
Spider mites are occasionally reported on Alocasias. These pests thrive in warm, dry conditions. Look out for these tiny mites on the leaf surface, and the webbing these pests create. They can be removed with a good shower of water and treatment with horticultural oils.
Root rot is a common disease of overwatered pot plants that can often be identified by yellowing leaves and general deterioration due to soggy soil. It is exacerbated by growing plants in soil with poor drainage and containers without drainage holes.
You may need to remove the Alocasia plant from its container and remove the affected roots If your plant has been kept in saturated soil for an extended period of time and is showing signs of illness.
Alocasia plants grow and shed led leaves regularly. Unfavorable conditions like poor light or lower temperatures can also cause these indoor plants to go into dormancy and lose their leaves.
Do not be too quick to assume that your plant has died if this happens since it can most likely resprout when conditions become more favorable. If you are uncertain, inspect the bulb. If it is soft and rotten, the plant has died.
Common Varieties and Cultivars
There are many popular species available in the horticultural trade. Some of the larger species, like Alocasia macrorrhiza, are best grown outdoors or in greenhouses unless you have plenty of room. Many of the smaller species make wonderful houseplants, however.
Some of the most popular indoor Alocasia plants include.
- Alocasia x Amazonica / Polly (Alocasia Polly)
- Alocasia reginula – Black Velvet
- Alocasia baginda ‘Dragon Scale’
- Alocasia micholitziana ‘Frydek’
- Alocasia sanderiana – Kris plant
- Alocasia Zebrina
- Alocasia Regal Shield
Alocasias are amazing plants with striking foliage that certainly come with their fair share of drama. They get through a lot of leaves, go through dormancy, and grow really quickly. Their bold impact on our indoor spaces and great looks make keeping them worth the highs and lows.
They may not be your typical beginner’s houseplant, but with the right knowledge, there’s no reason that anyone should fail! Follow the tips in this article and enjoy growing your own magnificent Alocasia specimen!
*image by Wirestock/depositphotos