Sometimes Mother Nature likes to do crazy things that humans cannot help but bring home. A great example of this is a group of plants known as elephant ears.
There are multiple genera of plants bearing this nickname, most famously:
- Alocasia spp. (Araceae family, Tropical Asia, and Australia)
- Caladium spp. (Araceae family, South America)
- Colocasia spp. (Araceae family, Southeastern Asia)
There are 90 species of alocasias (a-lo-KAY-shuh), 7 caladiums (ka-LAY-dee-um), and 12 colocasias (kol-oh-KAY-see-uh).
Of course, there are additional plants sometimes referred to as elephant ears, but you will most often see these three genera being sold under that name.
The nickname comes from the often massive size of their leaves, which resemble an elephant’s ears.
While you can grow these perennials outside in warm enough areas, most US residents will have to grow them indoors.
Indoor Elephant Ear Care
Size And Growth
Elephant ears are best known for their incredible leaf size.
Colocasias are 3′ to 6′ feet tall and have the largest leaves, which can be as small as 8″ inches or a massive 5′ feet long!
On the other hand, Alocasias have a max leaf length of closer to 35″ inches and tend to grow to a height of 2 to 6′ feet tall, depending on the species.
Caladiums are the smallest plants, with rounded leaves measuring 6″ to 18″ inches and an overall height of only 15″ to 35″ inches.
The difference in leaf sizes and heights can come in handy if you’re unsure what kind of elephant ear plant you have (such as when someone gives it to you as a gift) and you want to narrow down the possibilities.
These plants have a relatively fast growth rate; you can expect them to grow a few feet each year.
However, this is under ideal conditions, so your elephant ear may grow slower and smaller indoors.
Flowering And Fragrance
Elephant ear plants rarely – if ever – bloom indoors.
If, but some miracle, you do manage to get one to produce flowers, you might not even notice the tiny white buds, which tend to be hidden by the foliage.
Light And Temperature
All elephant ear plants come from dense forests where the canopy filters light down. This is why they have such large leaves, and direct sunlight can easily scorch the plants.
Try to find a nice sunny window on the east or west of your home where the plant can get bright light in the morning (or evening) but have some shade in the afternoon.
Conversely, you can place it in a sunny room to one side of the window or use a sheer curtain to filter the sun’s rays.
Humidity is a sticky point, but one you can fiddle with a bit to find the best level.
As a general rule, you can grow just about any elephant ear plant at 50% to 60% percent humidity.
They will usually do okay if the humidity level doesn’t drop below 40% percent.
Alocasias especially love humidity and will thrive when it is closer to 70% percent, but they can also handle these lower levels at the cost of a little size.
Most elephant ear plants will thrive in a temperature range of 65° to 85° degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime.
The exception is the Colocasias, which prefer a slightly warmer 70° to 85° degrees Fahrenheit during the day.
In all cases, nighttime temperatures can be as low as 60° degrees Fahrenheit and suffer damage when temperatures drop below 50° degrees Fahrenheit.
Watering And Feeding
You can water elephant ear plants using either the soak-and-dry method or the bottom-up method.
The finger trick will tell you when it’s time, which literally means sticking your finger straight down in the soil to see how dry it is.
However, this is one of the places where knowing the genus matters.
Caladiums are smaller and need much more water, so you’ll want to water when the soil is only ½” an inch down (halfway to your first knuckle).
Meanwhile, most other elephant ear plants won’t need to be watered until the soil is dry 2” inches down (to the second knuckle).
The good news is that feeding is much easier. Elephant ear plants can be fed a balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer monthly from spring through August.
Be sure to cut back during fall and winter so the plants can rest.
Soil And Transplanting
Elephant ear plants need loamy, well-drained soil with a slightly acidic (6.0 to 6.5 ideally, but up to 7.0 is okay) pH level.
Succulent potting mixes with some added perlite are perfect, although you can also make your own soil-free mix.
You will want to repot these plants annually to refresh the soil content.
The faster-growing varieties may need to graduate a container size at this time to avoid root binding.
Grooming And Maintenance
Due to the large size of their foliage, the leaves will need to be wiped down one to two times per week.
Occasionally, you may prune a leaf or two to remove damaged or shape the plant.
However, despite these plants’ generally fast growth rate, you don’t want to remove too much at once.
How To Propagate Elephant Ear Plants?
These plants rarely flower in captivity, making stem cuttings the only easy propagation method. The good news is that you can propagate the cuttings in either soil or water.
Elephant Ear Pests Or Diseases
Aphids, spider mites, and mealybugs are all known to attack these plants.
Likewise, overwatering, excessive humidity, or leaving the leaves wet can result in fungal infections or root rot.
Most elephant ear plants contain calcium oxalate crystals, which are toxic to pets and can harm humans in large quantities. More on the elephant ear plant being poisonous or toxic.
Alocasias also contain additional irritants, although some species can be edible if properly prepared.
Colocasias are edible and used in numerous cultures as a food crop.
Elephant Ear Uses
The most obvious use for elephant ear plants is to create conversations.
Smaller varieties can be displayed on stands or end tables, while the taller varieties are a great addition to entryways.
Pair two to frame a particularly picturesque window or glass doors for a classy accent.
As mentioned, Colocasias can be used as a food crop, giving them the function to go along with the form.
Learn more with these Elephant Ears Growing Guides
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