Colocasia Esculenta, or Elephant Ear, for the Garden

colocasia esculentaVirtues: Elephant ear is a tropical plant that produces large leaves that quite obviously inspire its common name. (There are several plants that go by “elephant ear,” but here we’re talking about Colocasia esculenta). Elephant ear has a few demands, but they’re easy to meet and in return you’ll get a big, fun foliage plant.

Common name: Elephant ear

Botanical name: Colocasia esculenta

Exposure: Full sun, although midday shade is beneficial in hot climates

Season: Summer, for foliage

Foliage: Large, broad leaves stand atop upright stems that spring from the base of the plant. There are many cultivars of Colocasia esculenta, some offering dark-colored leaves or variegation.

Habit: Colocasia esculenta ranges from two to five feet tall, depending on the cultivar.

Origins: Colocasia esculenta is thought to hail from Southeast Asia and southern India. It has also naturalized throughout other tropical regions.

How to grow elephant ear: Site these plants in full sun in most areas, although they will appreciate some light shade in hot climates, especially at midday. Elephant ear can be grown in the ground or in a large container, on its own or with smaller companions. Colocasia esculenta is a thirsty plant that requires regular watering. It can even be grown at the edge of a pond or water feature or if it’s potted its pot can be partially submerged in the water. Elephant ear also needs nutrient-rich soil and regular feeding. Providing these two materials—water and food—will result in the biggest, best growth from your colocasia.

Colocasia esculenta is generally winter hardy in USDA Zones 8 and warmer. In Zone 7, this elephant ear will need a thick winter mulch for protection; the experts at Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina recommend a 12-inch layer of shredded leaves applied after the first frost. In Zones 6 and colder, C. esculenta should be wintered indoors as a dormant corm. Dig them up after the first frost, remove the foliage and store the corm in an open container of peat moss or shredded newspaper in a dry, cool space.

Image: ananaline/iStock/GettyImages

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