Most likely a native of Southeast Asia, Colocasia (Colocasia esculentaZones 7b–12) is used by many gardeners for its large, tropical-looking foliage. The plant also has a long history of culinary use. Visitors to Hawaii are often treated to poi, a starchy Polynesian food paste made from its root-like corms. Common names for colcassia include taro, edo, dashin, and elephant ear. Elephant ear is the most commonly used common name, but it can be confusing because elephant ear plants come from many different genera, including Colocasia, AlocasiaAnd XanthosomaAll of them are members of the Araceae family. While there are many different types, cultivars and hybrids of Colcacia. Colocasia esculenta They are the main ones that you will find sold to home gardeners in garden centers.
A History of Decorative Excellence
I don’t grow Colcacia for food. In fact, unless cooked, every part of this plant is poisonous to humans. I grow it for its amazingly large, bodacious, in-your-face foliage. It adds just the right bold texture to a container or a tropical feel to an herbaceous border. In the southern and southeastern United States, colocasia is easy to grow and appreciates the warmth and humidity of our growing climate. Leaf sizes can range from less than 6 inches wide to 2 feet. I have been growing and collecting colcassia since the early 2000s. During this time many new decorative varieties came into the market. Many of them were bred by now-retired University of Hawaii professor John Chu, who was already famous for growing Colcacia as a food crop. Dr. Chu began breeding ornamental cultivars, which became the main catalyst for many of the wonderful varieties now on the market.
Provide rich soil for best results.
Dan Benarske, horticulturist Chanticleer Garden In Pennsylvania, wrote an article I like very much on colcacia and other elephant ears. I contacted Dean for his advice on growing Colcacia in my area. “These plants don’t need anything,” he told me. “They like a rich, organic, moist compost to get their roots ‘down and dirty.’ You can spend a lot of money on good soil choices. can spend, but my best results have come from the bottom of a compost pile. Even if the material isn’t fully decomposed yet, they will grow. Dan and I have had similar experiments, As I’ve found, Colcacia likes moist and organically rich soil. A supplemental fertilizer added periodically during the growing season will produce large, attractive plants. As far as sun exposure is concerned. , most varieties thrive in full sun or partial shade.
Hardness and extreme cold
Is colocasia hardy in our region? This is a difficult question, and I hesitate to refer to Colcassia as strictly strict. I have several selections that last year after year in my garden in Tennessee. Others lasted only a few years and then faded away. As a rule of thumb, gardeners in zones 7b and below should take extra winter care if they want plants to come back every year.
I asked the planter and the garden designer Troy Mardin For his views on hardness. “Many varieties of colocasia are hardy in most of the South,” she said, “but I always make some of my favorite, hard-to-find varieties in late summer and some offsets in the winter.” ” This is solid advice, as colcassias are easy to store over the winter and you don’t need to keep them actively growing. I seal the pots, always keep them on the dry side, and overwinter them in a garden shed or storage room where it doesn’t freeze.
Choosing the best varieties
There really isn’t a best-of-the-best colcassia. There is only one that is best for you and your situation. I have my favorites, and modern breeding has brought us a flurry of new cultivars. Many new cultivars have vibrantly colored stems or glossy leaves that can really stand out. Here are some wonderful cultivars.
Royal Hawaii® ‘Mauve Gold’ Colocasia
Colocasia esculenta ‘Mau Gold’, zones 8-12
Royal Hawaii® ‘Maui Gold’ colocasia is a clustered elephant ear that was released to the public in 2012. Stems arch up to 4 feet tall and bear gold chartreuse leaves. Plant it in the ground or in containers. Combined with dark foliage and complementary flowering annuals, you can’t go wrong with this choice.
Pharaoh Mask ™ colocasia
Colocasia ‘Kofama’, zones 7b–12
Pharaohs Mask™ colocasia brings bright green leaves with purple veins to the garden. This plant is honestly hard to look away from. Perhaps growing a bit slower than other choices, it still performs admirably. The leaves can be up to 4 feet tall at the end of the season. It is such a special plant that it is able to overwinter in colder regions.
Colocasia esculenta var Antiquorum ‘Illustris’, zones 7b-12
‘Illustris’ is an oldie but a goodie. Large, long heart-shaped leaves are dusty black with green veins. Older clumps can grow up to 5 feet tall during the growing season. Totally trouble-free in the garden, this plant can hold its own as the sole occupant of a container garden.
These are truly amazing plants that should be included in almost every garden. Easy to grow year-round in warmer climates and winter in cooler climates, they will continue to provide mass appeal year after year.
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Andy Pulte is a faculty member in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Tennessee.
Photo: Andy Platt