What is an Elephant Ear Plant?

N. Phipps

Elephant ear plants, known scientifically as Colocasia esculenta or Caladium esculentum, are commonly grown for their big leaves, which resemble large elephant ears. These tropical plants can reach heights in excess of five feet (152.4 cm) tall. Because of this great size, an elephant ear plant makes an excellent focal point in the garden. Whether grown in containers, mixed beds, or borders, elephant ears provide a stunning tropical addition to the landscape, especially when growing alongside their smaller, colorful counterparts — the caladiums.

The stems and tubers from elephant ear plants are used in many Asian dishes.
The stems and tubers from elephant ear plants are used in many Asian dishes.

Elephant ear plants are easy to grow and quite versatile. These tuberous plants thrive in sun or partial shade. They do especially well in hot, humid conditions similar to that of their native tropical environments. The tubers should be planted during spring in rich, well-drained, organic soil. Provided the area has adequate drainage, elephant ears will perform well in moist soils too. This also makes them ideal candidates for growing near the edges of bogs or water gardens.

If not cooked properly, elephant ears may cause severe stomach upset.
If not cooked properly, elephant ears may cause severe stomach upset.

Once elephant ear plants are in the ground, they require minimal care, other than fertilizing and watering. In addition to amending the soil with compost and other organic matter, elephant ears benefit from a monthly boost of nitrogen rich fertilizer. These plants are also heavy drinkers and cannot tolerate overly dry conditions. Therefore, elephant ear plants must be watered regularly. In fact, plants that are low on water may droop or wilt significantly.

Elephant ear plants require indoor storage during winter in cold climates, as they cannot tolerate freezing conditions. Typically, elephant ears are dug up in the fall once the plants have died down. They are then stored indoors in a cool, dark area until the return of spring. At this time elephant ear tubers can be replanted after the threat of frost had passed. Container-grown elephant ears can simply be moved indoors or to a sheltered area outdoors.

In warmer areas, elephant ear plants can be left in the ground year-round, although watering should be limited during dormancy. This dormant period is a good time for digging plants up for division, however, should the elephant ears become overcrowded or additional plants are desired. Simply divide the tubers and replant them elsewhere. Some people deem the elephant ear plant to be invasive as well. Therefore, this should be considered when choosing its placement in the landscape.

In addition to their ornamental beauty in the garden, elephant ears are also valued in many countries for their tubers, which are eaten. However, if not cooked properly, their roots can cause severe stomach upset. The sap may also be a skin irritant to some.

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Discussion Comments


it also burns the throat and hands when exposed to skin. if you do eat this plant you should grab a glass of milk or a popsicle to soothe the burning in the throat.

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