Plants that add fun—whether through size, texture, or unusual color—have soared in popularity in recent years, and what plants could be more entertaining than the Asian elephant ears, whose bold, broad leaves seem so innocently joyful, so ridiculously oversize, that you’re tempted to play hide-and-seek behind them in the borders? In my collection, none is more whimsical than Alocasia ‘Hilo Beauty’.
Its heart-shaped, apple-green leaves are generously dappled with large creamy yellow blotches. I’ve yet to see another elephant ear with similar variegation, and though the leaves are only 8 to 12 inches long—small in comparison to many other selections—they seem larger for being held on two-foot stems. That’s a bit short for a good game of hide-and-seek, but any plant whose leaves are half the length of its stems packs a powerful visual punch, regardless of height. I first saw ‘Hilo Beauty’ used en masse, and each leaf had its own mischievous personality, like the bright faces of a class of frisky first-graders. But just as a single child can be as intriguing as a larger group (and a darned sight easier to manage), ‘Hilo Beauty’ works perfectly well as a single specimen in beds and containers. I like to grow it in an Asian-style pot with pale green lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) and a cream and sunset-pink coleus, Solenosternon ‘Aurora’.
‘Hilo Beauty’ prospers in rich soil and full sun to medium shade. Generous watering keeps it lush. Extra vigilance is required when growing it in containers, but since ‘Hilo Beauty’ thrives in standing water, for once it’s OK to leave a saucer under the pot to catch runoff, provided its fellow container dwellers don’t mind. Or sink potted plants into a garden pool for the summer, where they will be supremely happy.
‘Hilo Beauty’ cannot tolerate cold, so wait until night temperatures reach the 50s to plant it in spring. Slow-growing at first, it will start producing lush clumps of foliage at the onset of summer’s heat, as well as small plantlets around the mother bulb. Dig your plants in autumn once temperatures dip into the 40s. Don’t wait until after the first frost, or you’ll find only the mushy remains of a once-healthy tuber. You can store dormant tubers dry and cool, but if you plan to overwinter ‘Hilo Beauty’ as an indoor potted plant, give it all the light and heat you can. I killed my first plants, not realizing that 47°F winter nights in the greenhouse would be fatal. Now I provide 70°F bottom heat and water only sparingly until spring. I don’t mind babying ‘Hilo Beauty’, though—the return is months of fun in my playful garden oasis.
|Type of plant||tropical perennial|
|Family||Araceae (arum family)|
|Height/Spread||18-24 in./30 in.|
|Leaves||apple green with yellow blotches|
|Flowers||nonshowy spathe and spadix|
|Rate of growth||slow when cool; very fast in summer|
|Hardiness||will overwinter in USDA Zone 9b and warmer; must be brought indoors in colder areas|
|Exposure||sun to medium shade|
|Soil||moderately to very rich|