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What is Colocasia?

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  • Written By: Angela Williams Duea
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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Colocasia is a group of flowering plants used in landscaping and sometimes for food. The plants of this genus come in 25 species, and common names for the species include elephant ear, eddoe, dasheen, taro, and cocoyam. Leaves of these plants are shaped like shields or arrowheads, each growing on a single stem and ranging from 10 to 60 inches (25 to 150 centimeters) across. The plant is native to tropical regions of Asia and the Americas, and the rhizome of some varieties is eaten as a starchy vegetable.

The large floppy leaves of Colocasia give the plants one of their common names, elephant ear. In the garden, they are prized as ornamental plants growing as a focal point in the back of a landscaping plan. Several varieties produce differing plant sizes, leaf shape color, ranging from bright green through reddish-tinged and black-outlined foliage. Colocasia grows best in tropical areas with plentiful water; when the plant dries out, the leaves fold and droop and will develop dry brown spots or edges after a drought. The plant can be cultivated by planting the tubers, or rhizomes, just below the surface, or mature plants can be set into pre-watered holes.

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As a food plant, Colocasia is used throughout Africa, the Caribbean, and South America. The edible varieties are called taro, cocoyam, dasheen, callaloo, or eddoe by locals, and the plants can be cultivated or harvested in the wild. The tubers of the plant are white-fleshed with a dark-colored bark that is peeled before eating, and the flavor is somewhat similar to a potato. For many tropical cultures, this root is a main source of starch, used in many dishes. The leaves are high in vitamins A, B, and K, while the tubers provide several minerals as well as carbohydrates.

The Caribbean dish callaloo, a stew with variable ingredients, always contains the chopped leaves of the Colocasia plant, and sometimes also includes the chopped tubers. Some South American cultures dry the tubers and pound them into flour to be used in baking and as a thickening agent. The leaves have a taste similar to spinach or collards, and can be steamed, used as wrappings for other foods, or included in the Indian dish chembila curry. Peoples from Hawaii to India to Africa also boil, fry, or mash the roots before eating. In Cameroon, the flowers of the plant are used to make a dish called Achu soup.

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