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Colocasia (Elephant Ears, Taro)

Colocasia, known as Elephant Ear plant or Taro, boasts dramatic, heart-shaped leaves, creating a lush, tropical ambiance in the garden

Elephant Ears, Taro, Elephant Ear, Colocasia, Colocasia esculenta

Colocasia is a fast-growing plant that can quickly fill a garden’s space. It’s known for its dramatic tropical appearance and is often used as a focal point in landscaping. While grown mainly for its foliage, Colocasia is also an important agricultural crop in many cultures, valued for its edible tubers.

Colocasia: The Tropical Beauty of the Elephant Ear Plant

Colocasia, commonly known as Elephant Ear or Taro, is a genus of tropical plants prized for their large, heart-shaped leaves. These leaves can be so large that they resemble elephant ears, giving the plant its common name. The leaves are often glossy, with prominent veins and a range of colors from deep green to black.

Belonging to the arum family (Araceae), along with Anthurium (Flamingo Flower)Zantedeschia (Calla Lily), or Caladium (Angel Wing), the genus Colocasia includes several species, with Colocasia esculenta being the most widely known and cultivated. This species is commonly used for its edible tubers (Taro).

Native: Colocasia is native to southeastern Asia and India, thriving in warm, humid environments. It has been cultivated in these regions for thousands of years, both for its ornamental value and as a food crop.

Growth Habit: Elephant Ears are herbaceous perennials with a clumping growth habit. They grow from tubers or rhizomes and can spread to form large clusters.

Size: The size of Elephant Ear plants can vary significantly depending on the species and growing conditions, but many varieties can reach 3-6 feet (90-180 cm) in height and spread.

Flowers and Blooming Season: The flowers, though not as prominent as the foliage, are typically inflorescences enclosed in a spathe. They usually bloom in late summer. After flowering, Colocasia plants may produce a berry-like fruit, but it is generally not significant or ornamental.

Foliage: The foliage is the most striking feature of the Elephant Ear plant, with leaves that can reach several feet in length in some species. The leaves are usually arrow or heart-shaped and can have different colors or patterns. They grow directly from underground tubers on long petioles (leaf stalks). In a healthy plant, new leaves continuously emerge from the center, unfurling in a spiral pattern.

Hardiness: Most Colocasia species are hardy in USDA zones 8-11. They require a warm climate to thrive and are not frost-tolerant. In USDA zone 10 or warmer climates, they remain evergreen, but in zones 8 to 9, most varieties typically die back to the ground, reemerging in the spring. The plant will die in colder zones unless the tubers are dug up and stored for the winter.

Uses: Elephant Ears are widely used as ornamental plants in gardens and landscapes, especially near ponds, in water features, or in wet, boggy areas. The large, striking leaves make it an excellent choice for focal points in garden beds or as a lush backdrop for other plants. They can be grown in shallow water at the edges of ponds or in water gardens, adding a lush, green look.

Elephant Ears are also well-suited for growing in large containers, where they can add a tropical touch to patios, decks, and indoor spaces.

The tubers of some species, particularly Colocasia esculenta (Taro), are edible and a staple food in many tropical regions of the world. They are rich in carbohydrates and can be cooked in various ways, similar to potatoes.

Toxicity: All parts of the plant are toxic to humans and pets if ingested raw due to the presence of calcium oxalate crystals. Cooking usually neutralizes the toxins in the tubers.

Deer and Rabbit: Elephant Ears are generally resistant to deer and rabbits, likely due to their toxicity.

Invasiveness: Colocasia esculenta can become invasive in regions with warm, humid climates, particularly in areas near wetlands, rivers, and streams. It’s notably invasive in parts of the southeastern United States and other similar climatic zones around the world, where it can outcompete native vegetation due to its rapid growth and adaptability to wet conditions. Find where this species is invasive in the United States.
Discover beautiful U.S. native plant alternatives.

Guide Information

Hardiness 8 - 11
Heat Zones 8 - 12
Climate Zones 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, H1, H2
Plant Type Bulbs, Perennials
Plant Family Araceae
Genus Colocasia
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Winter
Height 2' - 10'
(60cm - 3m)
Spread 2' - 10'
(60cm - 3m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average, High
Soil Type Loam, Sand, Clay
Soil pH Acid, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Poorly Drained
Characteristics Showy
Tolerance Deer, Rabbit, Wet Soil
Landscaping Ideas Patio And Containers, Beds And Borders, Bog Gardens, Ponds And Streams, Rain Gardens
Garden Styles Mediterranean Garden
Colocasia esculenta ‘Fontanesii’ (Black Stem Elephant Ear)
Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ (Taro)
Colocasia esculenta (Taro)

What is Special About the Elephant Ear Plant?

Elephant Ears are special for several reasons:

Striking Foliage: Their most notable feature is the large, heart-shaped leaves that can grow impressively large, resembling elephant ears. This dramatic foliage adds a lush, tropical feel to any garden or indoor space.

Versatility in Landscaping: They are excellent for creating visual impact in gardens, especially in water features, rain gardens, or as container plants. Their size and shape make them ideal focal points.

Variety of Colors and Patterns: Colocasia leaves come in a range of colors, from deep green to black, with some varieties featuring striking vein patterns or color contrasts.

Edible Tubers: In many cultures, the tubers of Colocasia esculenta, known as Taro, are an important food source, renowned for their versatility and nutritional value.

Shade Tolerance: These plants can thrive in partial shade, making them suitable for areas of the garden that don’t receive full sun.

Water-Loving Nature: Colocasia loves wet conditions, making it unique compared to many other plants. It can even be grown in shallow water.

Fast Growth: These plants can grow quickly, providing rapid gratification in landscaping projects.

Air Purifying: When grown indoors, Colocasia can help purify the air, contributing to a healthier living environment.

Colocasia esculenta ‘Blue Hawaii’ (Taro)
Colocasia esculenta ‘Diamond Head’ (Taro)
Colocasia gigantea ‘Thailand Giant’ (Giant Elephant Ear)

Landscaping with Elephant Ears

Landscaping with Elephant Ears offers a bold, tropical aesthetic to any garden space. Here are some ideas to incorporate these dramatic plants effectively:

Focal Points: Use their large, striking leaves to create eye-catching focal points in garden beds or as standalone features in lawns.

Water Features: Plant them near ponds, streams, or water gardens, where their affinity for moisture can be utilized, and their lush foliage can reflect beautifully in the water. Elephant Ears are good plants for bog gardens or rain gardens.

Mixed Borders: Combine Elephant Ears with other plants in border gardens. Their large leaves contrast well with finer-textured plants, adding depth and interest.

Container Gardening: In cooler climates, grow them in large containers to add a tropical touch to patios, decks, or balconies. They can be moved indoors during winter.

Shade Gardens: Their tolerance for partial shade makes them ideal for underplanting beneath tall trees or in shaded areas of the garden.

Tropical Themes: Create a tropical-themed garden by pairing them with other vibrant plants like cannas or hibiscus.

Natural Privacy Screens: Group Elephant Ears to form natural, living screens that can provide privacy or hide unsightly areas.

Pathways and Walkways: Line pathways or walkways with Elephant Ears for an immersive, jungle-like experience as you walk through your garden.

Companion Plants for Elephant Ears

Hibiscus moscheutos (Hardy Hibiscus)
Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower)
Begonia
Impatiens
Caladium (Angel Wings)
Cannas (Canna Lilies)
Calibrachoa (Million Bells)
Coleus scutellarioides (Coleus)
Fuchsia

When to Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs

Elephant Ears are typically planted in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. In regions with a long growing season, they can also be planted in early summer.

 

Where to Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs

Light: They thrive in partial shade to full sun. However, in hotter climates, they benefit from some afternoon shade to prevent leaf scorch. Elephant Ears with darker leaves need more sun to retain their color.

Soil: Plant them in fertile, moisture-retentive soil. They prefer a slightly acidic to neutral pH and soil rich in organic matter. Elephant Ears can also grow in 6 inches (15 cm) of standing water.

 

How to Plant Elephant Ear Bulbs

Prepare the Soil: Loosen the soil and enrich it with compost or a balanced, organic fertilizer.

Planting Depth and Spacing: Plant the tubers about 2-4 inches deep (5-10 cm) and space them approximately 2-3 feet apart (60-90 cm), as they grow into large plants. Make sure the soil is warm enough (at least 70°F or 21°C). 

Orientation: Place the tuber with the pointed end facing up.

Colocasia esculenta ‘Illustris’ (Taro)
Colocasia esculenta ‘Mojito’ (Taro)
Colocasia esculenta ‘Hawaiian Punch’ (Taro)

Elephant Ears Care

Watering: They require consistent moisture, especially during dry periods. Water deeply to encourage robust root development but avoid waterlogging the soil.

Fertilizing: Feed them with a balanced liquid fertilizer every 2-4 weeks during the growing season to support their rapid growth.

Mulching: Apply mulch around the base to conserve moisture and regulate soil temperature.

Winter Care: In zones where they are not hardy, dig up the tubers after the first frost and store them in a cool, dry place over winter.

How to Grow Elephant Ears Indoors

Growing Elephant Ears indoors can be a rewarding experience, given their dramatic foliage and tropical vibe. 

Select the Right Variety: Some Colocasia varieties are more suited to indoor growth due to their size and growth habit. Research and select a variety that fits well in your indoor space.

Potting: Use a large pot with drainage holes to prevent waterlogging. Fill the pot with a well-draining potting mix enriched with organic matter.

Lighting: Place the plant in an area where it will receive bright, indirect light. Too much direct sunlight can scorch the leaves, while too little light can lead to leggy growth.

Watering: Elephant Ears need consistently moist soil. Water the plant when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Be cautious not to overwater, as this can lead to root rot.

Humidity: These tropical plants enjoy high humidity. If your indoor air is dry, consider using a humidifier or placing the pot on a tray filled with water and pebbles (ensure the pot is not sitting directly in water).

Temperature: Keep the plant in a warm environment, preferably between 65-75°F (18-24°C). Avoid placing it in drafty areas or near heating and air conditioning vents.

Feeding: During the growing season (spring and summer), feed your Elephant Ear plant every two to four weeks with a diluted balanced liquid fertilizer.

Pruning: Prune away any yellow or damaged leaves to encourage new growth and maintain the plant’s appearance.

Repotting: As the plant grows, it may become root-bound. Repot it every couple of years into a larger container to give it more room to grow.

 

Colocasia esculenta ‘Kona Coffee’ (Taro)
Colocasia esculenta ‘White Lava’ (Taro)
Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Coral’ (Taro)

Pests, Diseases, and Common Problems

Elephant Ears can encounter various pests, diseases, and common problems:

Spider Mites: These tiny pests thrive in hot, dry environments. They can cause yellowing or bronzing of leaves and leave fine webs on the plant. Apply insecticidal soap or horticultural oil to keep them away.

Aphids: Small, sap-sucking insects that can cause distorted growth and leave behind a sticky residue called honeydew, which can lead to sooty mold. Regular applications of insecticidal soap or neem oil can help control aphids. 

Whiteflies: These tiny, winged insects congregate on the undersides of leaves, feeding on sap and potentially spreading diseases. 

Root rot: This is one of the most common issues, often caused by overwatering or poorly draining soil. Symptoms include yellowing leaves and a mushy base. Prevention involves ensuring well-draining soil and careful watering.

Leaf Blight: Caused by fungal infections, leaf blight results in dark spots on the leaves, which can lead to leaf drop. Good air circulation and avoiding wetting the foliage when watering can help prevent this.

Leaf spot: Both fungal and bacterial pathogens can cause leaf spots, which appear as discolored spots on the foliage. Maintaining cleanliness and reducing leaf wetness can be effective preventative measures.

Common Problems

Yellowing Leaves: Overwatering, poor drainage, or nutrient deficiencies can cause yellowing of leaves.

Scorched Leaves: Direct sunlight in hot climates can scorch the leaves, causing them to turn brown and crispy.

Foliage Dieback in Winter: In colder climates, Colocasia may die back in winter. It’s important to mulch over the root zone or bring potted plants indoors to protect them from freezing temperatures.

Water Requirements: Colocasia loves moist conditions and can suffer in dry soil. Regular watering is essential, but balance is key to avoid waterlogging.

Elephant Ear Plant, Elephant Ears, Taro, Colocasia

Colocasia Esculenta ‘Diamond Head’, Kalimeris Incisa ‘Blue Star’, Hydrangea quercifolia

Frequently Asked Questions

How toxic is the elephant ear plant?

Elephant Ear plants (Colocasia) contain calcium oxalate crystals, which are highly toxic when ingested. If chewed or swallowed, these crystals can cause severe mouth and throat irritation, swelling, and digestive upset. In some cases, the reaction can be severe enough to be life-threatening, especially if the airway is affected.

Are elephant ears poisonous to dogs?

Yes, Elephant Ears are poisonous to dogs. If a dog chews or ingests any part of the plant, it can lead to symptoms like drooling, pawing at the mouth, oral pain, decreased appetite, vomiting, and difficulty swallowing. In severe cases, respiratory distress or swelling that obstructs breathing can occur. If you suspect your dog has ingested Elephant Ear plant, contact a veterinarian immediately.

Do elephant ear plants come back every year?

Elephant Ear plants are perennials, meaning they come back every year. In warmer climates (USDA zones 8-11), they can survive winter outdoors and regrow in the spring. In colder regions, they may die back in the winter but can be overwintered indoors or reemerge from tubers in the spring.

Compare All Colocasia (Elephant Ears)
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While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 8 - 11
Heat Zones 8 - 12
Climate Zones 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, H1, H2
Plant Type Bulbs, Perennials
Plant Family Araceae
Genus Colocasia
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Winter
Height 2' - 10'
(60cm - 3m)
Spread 2' - 10'
(60cm - 3m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average, High
Soil Type Loam, Sand, Clay
Soil pH Acid, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained, Poorly Drained
Characteristics Showy
Tolerance Deer, Rabbit, Wet Soil
Landscaping Ideas Patio And Containers, Beds And Borders, Bog Gardens, Ponds And Streams, Rain Gardens
Garden Styles Mediterranean Garden
Compare All Colocasia (Elephant Ears)
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