How to Grow and Care for Alocasia

Alocasia

Quick Overview

Plant Type: Tropical
Family: Araceae
Sun Exposure: Bright but indirect light
Watering: Light-Moderate depending on soil
Colors: Green, Black, and White
Size: 1-18 feet tall; 1–8 feet wide
Hardiness Zones: 10-11
Soil Type: Loose, crumbly loam
Soil pH: 5.5-6.5
Propagation: Root propagation (rhizome division)
Toxicity: Toxic

Found throughout the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, the grand Alocasia is an impressive plant to behold. Depending on the variety, it has the ability to reach 15 feet or more in height, with a leaf span of up to 8 feet. Alocasia can reach this impressive size within three months, making it an extremely fast-growing plant.

These plants love warm and damp soil, but need proper drainage. Additionally, most Alocasia love bright sunlight, but it should be indirect and never fully on the leaves. Regardless of the variety of Alocasia you have chosen, their care is very similar even if their looks and size are not.

Alocasia is colloquially known as the Elephant’s Ear, and it’s easy to see how it got this name. The massive leaves on this plant resemble the ear of an elephant in both size and shape. For most Alocasia varieties, the leaves reach 18 to 36 inches in length. There are more than 80 unique varieties of Elephant Ear plants, with many being much smaller or larger than the average.

In the 1950s, Alocasia was used as a centerpiece potted plant in many homes and businesses. The eye-catching aesthetic of this plant could easily turn heads and start lengthy conversations. As a houseplant commonly kept outside of its native range, Alocasia can be somewhat finicky to keep healthy.  Once you know how to grow and care for your Alocasia, the plants can thrive indoors in most areas around the world.

Alocasia

Alocasia General Care

While there are more than 80 varieties of Alocasia, the genus itself has similar basic needs. With the exception of a few rare hybrid varieties, all Alocasia will thrive when given the right rainforest-type conditions. 

These plants love warm and damp soil, but need proper drainage. Additionally, most Alocasia love bright sunlight, but it should be indirect and never fully on the leaves. Regardless of the variety of Alocasia you have chosen, their care is very similar even if their looks and size are not.

Watering Your Alocasia

As with all life forms on the planet, water is a necessity. For Alocasia, this means balancing the fine line between moist and wet. They are water loving plants, but soil that remains wet for too long can lead to fungal infections which can quickly kill an otherwise healthy plant. The first two to three inches of the soil should be nearly dry before watering your Alocasia again. If your soil is well-aerated and fast-draining, over-watering should not be an issue.

Alocasia are vascular plants and are able to perform “guttation” throughout the night. This means the plant has the ability to expel excess water out through the leaves. If you notice your plant doing this on a regular basis, it might be time to cut back on your watering and ensure the roots are not developing rot or fungus.

The best time of day to water your Alocasia is early in the morning by pouring the water directly onto the soil. In addition, you may want to give your Alocasia the occasional shower to help keep dust and other particles off the leaves. This can be done by placing your potted plant outdoors during a summer rainstorm, or by placing it in your bathroom shower. Alocasia will need to remain moist all year, although your watering amount can be reduced in the winter when the plant is resting. Reducing the water entirely during these few months can cause the plant to enter dormancy.

Light

As with all plants, proper light is one of the basic needs you must provide. Whether you choose to utilize natural sunlight or will be providing artificial lighting, Alocasia does best in bright but indirect light. A few varieties can thrive in full sunlight, but may run the risk of leaf scorching or bleaching. If you are purchasing your Alocasia direct from a nursery or grower, be sure to ask about the specific plants’ light needs.

Alocasia grown indoors near a window or under artificial lighting should be rotated on a weekly basis to ensure the plant grows straight and does not lean to one side. These plants are extremely fast growing, with some varieties creating new leaves every 10 days, so be sure to rotate your plants on a regular basis.

Alocasia

Temperature and Humidity

As they are an equatorial tropical plant, Alocasia thrive in warm and humid environments. If your temperatures drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, Alocasia can become stressed to the point of death. Always ensure your plant is kept away from cold drafts, air conditioners, and open windows unless your outdoor temperatures are in a more comfortable range for your plant.

Humidity is another important aspect for Alocasia. This large plant loves humidity levels of 70 to 80% but can thrive in a humidity as low as 60%. Increasing the humidity levels around your indoor plant can be as easy as providing a drip tray below the pot that contains pebbles and water. Ensure the pot itself is kept above the water level with the pebbles, and as the water in this tray evaporates it will help create a micro humid environment near your plant. Additionally, you can consider adding humidifiers and misting systems in your plant room if you plan on having a larger number of tropical plants indoors.

Soil

Alocasia loves moist and warm soil, but will not thrive with overly wet or soggy roots. As such, you will need to provide your plants with a fast-draining soil. The ideal mixture is loose and not compact, with a fair mixture of both peat moss and perlite to provide ample aeration. There is a very fine line when it comes to moist soil and wet soil, and your Alocasia can quickly develop fungal infections if kept too wet.

elephant ear

Fertilizer

Larger plants can be especially demanding when it comes to nutrients, so providing fertilizer is extremely important during the growing season. Liquid fertilizers are most often used for indoor Alocasia, but granular versions are also acceptable. Throughout the growing season, your plants will definitely benefit from fertilizer application every two weeks. As the plant slows down and enters the resting period through the fall and winter months, you can stop fertilizing entirely.

Ensure that you follow the feeding directions on the fertilizer you have chosen. Some liquid fertilizer will need to be diluted and others will not. Additionally, if you notice your Alocasia leaves are starting to turn yellow, look for a fertilizer that contains micronutrients. If you can’t find that in your area, adding a small amount of Epsom salt to the pot once a month will help boost magnesium levels and nutrient uptake by your plants.

Alocasia

Propagating Your Alocasia

Alocasia is a tuberous plant, and as such can be extremely easy to propagate. However, it might take a bit of muscle from you depending on the size of the plant. All varieties of Alocasia can be propagated by rhizome division, which means you will need to have access to the roots. This can be as easy as digging down into the soil gently, or by removing the entire plant from its pot and cleaning up the root base. For larger plants, the latter method may be much more labor-intensive.

After you have access to the roots, you will notice a clump of multiple stalks each with their own root system and potentially even their own leaves. These tiny clones of your larger plant are the offsets you want to separate. The rhizomes should be easy to unclump without much pressure. Once separated from the larger plant, you can place these smaller clones into their own pot or garden space and watch them grow at a rapid pace.

elephant ear

Alocasia Varieties

Whether you are looking for a massive plant to be the centerpiece of your garden, or want something a little more manageable as an indoor potted plant, you can find the perfect Alocasia variety. Having been selectively propagated and hybridized from the original species, there is now a wide range of leaf shapes, colors, and sizes to suit any preference. 

Some of the most common Alocasia varieties on the market today include:

Alocasia amazonica “Polly”

One of the smallest varieties of Elephant Ear plant, “Polly” is a highly sought-after indoor variety. It can reach 18 inches in height, with arrow shaped leaves that can reach 16 inches in length. “Polly” is normally easy to find in local nurseries as well as online making it one of the best varieties of Alocasia to start with.

Alocasia micholitziana “Frydek”

Also known as the Green Velvet, the “Frydek” variety is another common indoor Alocasia to consider. The leaves on “Frydek” can reach 18 inches in length, but the plant itself can reach a height of around three feet making it more of a centerpiece than a windowsill plant. The leaves on “Frydek” are deep green in color, with contrasting white highlights on the veins.

Alocasia zebrina “Zebra”

Living up to its common name, the “Zebra” sports an attractive zebra-print stalk leading up to deep-green colored, shield-shaped leaves. Similar to the “Frydek” variety, this plant can also reach a height of around three feet. In ideal conditions “Zebra” can produce new leaves every 10 to 14 days making it an extremely prolific and fast-growing centerpiece for your garden.

Alocasia

Alocasia reginula “Black Velvet”

This stunning little plant is one of the smallest varieties of Alocasia you can find. Growing to a height of just 12 inches, and spanning no more than 18 inches in width, the “Black Velvet” is a compact bush variety of Alocasia. The leaves are extremely dark in color, lending to this plant’s name, and grow in the shape of a heart. “Black Velvet” can easily make a great conversation starter in your home or office, simply due to the attractive and unique color it displays.

Alocasia baginda “Silver Dragon”

The unique leaf coloration on this plant helped lead to its name. “Silver Dragon” leaves maintain a silvery or frosted color, with deep green veins on the top. The bottom of the leaves change colors entirely to a light green and brown combination. “Silver Dragon” remains relatively small, as Alocasia goes, growing to a max height of around 3 feet. The smaller size of this plant makes it suitable for growing indoors, while still maintaining an impressive look in your home or office.

Alocasia “Stingray” (Hybrid)

The leaf shape on this large plant gave it the nickname of “Stingray”. Each leaf displays a rounded-wing shape, and has a noticeable tail at the terminal point. The resemblance to an ocean-dwelling stingray fish was enough to earn this plant that common name. “Stingray” can grow to an impressive height of 6 feet within 2 months, making it a dominant centerpiece in your garden. The stalks are long and thin, displaying a unique striped coloring that leads up to rich green leaves.

Alocasia macrorrhizos “Giant Taro”

If you are searching for the largest of the large in Alocasia, the “Giant Taro” is exactly what you want. This massive plant can reach 18 feet in height, with each leaf reaching 5 feet or more in length when grown in optimal conditions. Indoors, the “Giant Taro” remains slightly more modest in size reaching five feet in height with a leaf-span of around three feet. The leaves on this plant are extremely glossy and lime-green in color. The arrow shape with pronounced ribbing and veins are both attractive and impressive.

Alocasia cuprea “Red Secret”

Not all Alocasia display dark green foliage. The “Red Secret” lives up to its name by producing stunning dark-red toned leaves with near black veins. Each glossy leaf can reach 18 inches in length and are uniquely oval in shape. The plant can grow to a height of 3 feet making it a very attractive and eye-catching potted plant for your home or office. “Red Secret” is one of the more difficult varieties to find, but it does very well in an indoor setting.

Alocasia cucullata “Hooded Dwarf”

Commonly seen as the Alocasia of choice to be grown in Buddhist temples throughout Thailand, the “Hooded Dwarf” variety is said to bring good luck to those who are around it. Reaching a height of around 3 feet, with glossy green leaves that can reach 12 inches in length, this variety is a great choice for the beginning Alocasia caretaker. The “Hooded Dwarf” is very hardy as Alocasia goes, and does very well in both indoor and outdoor conditions. It can tolerate a wider range of sunlight and shade conditions, and handles over-watering better than some other varieties.

Alocasia lauterbachiana “Purple Sword”

Taking the cake for having the most unique leaf shape, the “Purple Sword” definitely lives up to its name. Leaves on this Alocasia variety are sword-like in shape and appearance, reaching lengths of 24 inches. The glossy green color of each leaf is accented by a variety of purple hues in the veins and along the edges. This sizable Alocasia variety can reach 4 feet and height and width making it an impressive centerpiece for your garden or home. Slightly more fickle when it comes to sunlight and water requirements, the “Purple Sword” can make a stunning addition to your plant collection when given the right care.

Alocasia

Potential Pests and Diseases for Alocasia

While somewhat more hardy than other tropical plants, Alocasia can be rather prone to a number of diseases that attack the plant in various ways.

Root rot is one of the biggest issues faced, and is often due to over watering or keeping your Alocasia in poor draining soil. You can attempt to treat the root rot by removing the plant from its pot, washing the soil away from as much of the roots as possible, and trimming the rotted roots away. Once this is done, place the plant back into fresh soil, ensuring it is well-draining and well-aerated. The plant may become stressed from this process, but with patience it can recover quickly.

Fungal infections on the leaves and stem can be caused by too much humidity around your plant. The fungus causes a fuzzy growth on the edges of the leaves, along the stems, and can create unusual holes in the leaves as well. Removing the infected leaves and stalks, reducing the humidity, and providing more ventilation may clear up the issue. If not, a commercial fungicide can help get your plant back to its former glory.

Alocasia are unfortunately rather prone to attracting pests, however prevention of these issues can be as easy as providing your plant with a warm shower once a month. This helps to not only remove potentially harmful insects, but also removes household dust that can make the glossy leaves dull and unattractive. If prevention did not work and an infestation happens to occur on your plants, a commercially available plant-safe insecticide can be used. Always be sure to read the safety label on these products as some may not be safe to use around children or pets, and should always be kept away from apiaries and other areas where beneficial insects may reside.

elephant ear

Is Alocasia Toxic?

While this tropical house plant is extremely impressive to see growing in your home or office, some varieties of Alocasia can also be toxic to children and pets. Always be sure your plant is kept away from any children or pets that may try to chew on the leaves or stems.

A research from the North Carolina University shows that symptoms can be as mild as nausea and stomach cramps, to as severe as swelling of the airways and vascular restriction. Immediately contact emergency services or a poison control center if you think your child has ingested any part of your Alocasia. Get in contact with an emergency vet immediately if your pet has chewed on the leaves or stem. Symptoms can be treated and both humans and pets that have ingested alocasia can fully recover as long as you don’t hesitate to get proper help.

Symptoms of Alocasia Poisoning in Humans

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach cramps and pain
  • Redness and burning in or around the eyes
  • Burning of the mouth or throat
  • Swelling on the face, including eyes, mouth, and tongue
  • Difficulty breathing or rapid heartbeat

Symptoms of Alocasia Poisoning in Animals

  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting or heaving
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swelling around the mouth and throat

To Conclude

Alocasia can be a wonderful plant to have in your home, office or garden. It may be somewhat difficult to keep healthy for new green-thumbs, but once you have learned what your specific plant likes, it will thrive! Their growth rate is impressive, they come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, and can definitely turn heads as a centerpiece of your garden. As long as care is taken to keep curious children and pets away from them, Alocasia can make an excellent addition to your tropical plant collection.