Colocasia Esculenta, also called Elephant Ears and Taro, are stunning tropical plants that grow huge leaves on upright stalks in full sun or partial shade. Elephant Ear roots are edible, as are the cooked leaves, and both are traditionally used as food in tropical areas such as Polynesia, South America, and the Caribbean. Elephant Ears add an exotic look to the garden and can be grown as a central specimen within a bed of lower plants such as iris or pineapples. They also make a fine border along property lines or fecnces, where their six-foot height and large leaves can provide decorative cover.
Elephant Ears are recommended for growing in the ground in USDA Zones 9 to 11, or in pots in Zones 4 to 11. They like rich, well-drained soil, frequent watering, and respond well to any addition of organic compost or fertilizer. The best spot to plant these large tropical foliage plants is in full sun with protection from strong winds. Colocasia Esculenta plants are fast growing and considered very easy to grow. Add some of these exotic favorites to your edible landscape and transform your back yard bed or potted patio garden into a jungle oasis.
When planting Esculenta Elephant Ears remember their eventual mature size. Esculenta Elephant Ears grow to heights of six feet or more, and each plant will grow multiple stems with leaves that can be three feet long and two feet wide and sometimes even larger. Esculenta Elephant Ears can be planted as large bulbs or small plants. Space new bulbs or plants at least three feet apart. Plant new potted plants so that the rootball surface is level with the soil, and water in well.
Plant bulbs so that their growing end (usually identifiable as a pointed sprout) is just below the soil surface. If the growing end is not easily distinguished, simply plant the new bulb so that one side is just below the soil surface and the plant will quickly adjust and grow fine. Water new bulbs in well, and water new plants once per week or more if soil is dry to one inch deep. Continue to water Esculenta Elephant Ears once per week for the first year, then water frequently depending on rainfall and soil moisture.
Esculenta Elephant Ear Uses and Harvesting
Esculenta Elephant Ear leaves are edible, but the leaves (and fiberous stems) contain calcium oxalate crystals that can cause skin and mouth irritation. Cooking the leaves removes much of the irritating compounds, but for the most part Esculenta Elephant Ear leaves are mainly employed as a covering to wrap fish and meats when cooking. The large leaves and stems are also used to mulch pathways and planting beds.
The main edible crop from Esculenta Elephant Ears is the starchy roots. Also called Taro, the large tubers of Esculenta Elephant Ear plants are used to make thinly sliced and fried chips. Taro root is also used to thicken stews, and mashed into a paste that is blended with herbs and other ingredients to make side dishes. The rough brown skin of the tubers is removed to reveal a cream or white flesh speckeled with purple dots. Taro root is prized for many tropical dishes.
Elephant Ears will not thrive in soil that fully dries out, and the plants may die if not watered through very hot and dry conditions. Neglected Esculenta Elephant Ears have been known to revive and grow new plants from their underground tubers. This ability can also save Taro from harsh freezes, where leaves and stems die, but tubers reproduce new plants in spring. In locations that experience freezing, Taro Roots can be harvested and overwintered indoors, then planted in spring to grow new crops.
Esculenta Elephant Ears perform well in large pots. Plant tubers or new plants in pots that are three-gallons or larger with drainage holes. Fill the pot bottom with a one-inch layer of gravel, then add a rich mixture of potting soil, composted manure, and perlite. Fill to a level that allows the new plant to fit in the pot with the existing rootball surface one to two inches below the new pot’s rim. Backfill with soil mixture and leave a one to two-inch space at the pot top for watering. Water the new potted Esculenta Elephant Ear in well, and mulch the surface with tree bark or wood chips.
Will Esculenta Elephant Ears grow in shade?
Esculenta Elephant Ears prefer full sun but will grow in partial shade. Esculenta Elephant Ears planted in deep shade will grow, but will remain smaller than a sun-grown plant.
When should I plant Esculenta Elephant Ears?
In Zones 9 to 11, you can plant Esculenta Elephant Ears in spring, summer, or even in fall. If you have new Esculenta Elephant Ears in winter, keep the potted plants or tubers indoors until spring, then plant in the ground or in pots.
Can Esculenta Elephant Ears be grown indoors?
Yes, Esculenta Elephant Ears can be grown indoors if placed in a south-facing window, or a spot that gets as much daytime sunlight as possible.
How big will Esculenta Elephant Ears get?
Esculenta Elephant Ears reach mature heights of six feet or more. The leaves can grow to three feet long and two feet wide, or larger in ideal conditions.
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