Alocasia (Elephant’s ear) is a genus of tropical plants, with large, heart-shaped or arrow-shaped leaves, often with intricate patterns. Native to the tropics and subtropics of Asia and Eastern Australia, they grow from large rhizomes or tubers. They make exotic house plants in the UK, where their large, dramatic leaves take centre stage.
Several alocasia species are popular house plants, including Alocasia amazonica (sometimes known as Alocasia ‘Polly’), Alocasia zebrina, Alocasia reginula ‘Black Velvet’ and Alocasia wentii. Their leaves vary from slender, arrow-head shapes to wide heart-shaped leaves. Some have colourful veins and may be waxy, furry or glossy to touch.
Bear in mind that all plants in the Alocasia genus are toxic when ingested, so be mindful if you have children or pets.
How to grow Alocasia
Different alocasias have different needs, so always check the label before buying. Some need full shade to thrive, while others do best in full sun. Most do well in bright light but out of direct sunlight, however alocasias with colourful leaves, such as Alocasia amazonica, tend to do best in sun. Choose a free-draining, peat-free potting mix. Alocasias tend to do best in slightly acidic compost, so a handful of peat-free ericaceous compost would be beneficial. Water regularly, keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged.
Where to grow Alocasia
Most alocasias need a minimum temperature of 16ºC, and thrive in very humid conditions, such as a bathroom. To increase humidity levels further, stand the pot on a tray filled with pebbles and then add water until it rises to just below the bottom of the pot. Most species do best in bright light out of direct sunlight, however some do better with more sun or shade – always check the label. Keep them away from cold drafts from windows, doors, and air conditioning. If you have young children or pets, grow Alocasia away out of harm’s way, such as on a high shelf.
How to plant Alocasia
Most alocasias will grow well in the pots you bought them in for a couple of years. However, if you want to repot an Alocasia, use a slightly larger pot and add a peat-free house plant compost mixed with a handful of peat-free ericaceous compost. Water the plant in its original pot about an hour before repotting, so its roots are moist and it comes out of the pot more easily. Gently remove it from the pot, untangle any roots and plant it at the same depth in the new pot. Backfill with compost and firm gently, then water well, allowing the water to drain.
How to care for Alocasia
If you provide good levels of humidity and light, and water regularly so that the compost remains moist but is never waterlogged, you should have great success. Alocasias are fast-growing in summer – some can produce a new leaf per week – however they stop growing when they become dormant in winter, and may even die down and lose their leaves. Feed with liquid fertilizer once or twice a month in summer.
Alocasia leaves shrivel and die occasionally – this is perfectly normal. Simply remove shrivelled leaves as they appear.
How to propagate Alocasia
Most alocasias can be propagated by division. Simply remove the plant from its pot and then, with secateur, separate a clump of roots from the main rootball. Replant the original plant and pop the new division in a fresh pot of compost, taking care to ensure it sits at the same depth as the original plant. Pop the pot in a warm location and ensure the compost stays moist for a couple of weeks, until the new division becomes established.
How to propagate Alocasia by root cuttings
Some Alocasias can be propagated by root cuttings.
1. Remove the plant from its pot
Remove the plant from its pot and use sharp scissors to cut pieces of thick, fleshy root around 10cm long.
2. Lay the root cuttings on compost
Mix peat-free compost with perlite (around a ratio of 70:30) and firm it into a tray. Lay the root cuttings flat on the compost mix, leaving about 2cm between them.
3. Cover the cuttings with grit
Cover the root cuttings with horticultural grit and then water the whole tray using a watering can with a hose, and leave to drain. Keep the tray in a warm, light spot out of direct sunlight. New growth should appear within six weeks.
Growing alocasia: pests and diseases
Alocasia plants are not prone to pests and diseases. However, you may find spider mites on the leaves. Spider mites thrive in a dry environment so increase humidity by placing the plant pot on a tray of pebbles and adding water to the tray so it sits just below the top of the pebbles.
Advice on buying Alocasia
- Alocasias have different growing requirements, so always check the label before buying
- You may find an Alocasia at your local garden centre but you’ll find more choice online
- Always check plants for signs of disease or damage before buying
Where to buy Alocasia
Types of Alocasia to grow
Alocasia ‘Pink Dragon’ has large, dark leaves and pink stems. H x S: 1m x 1m
Alocasia ‘Polly’ bears large, heavily-veined, dark green leaves, and occasionally a yellow flower spathe. H x S: 45cm x 45cm
Alocasia ‘Zebrina’ has arrow-shaped leaves held on leggy, zebra-striped stems. H x S: 1m x 1m
Alocasia ‘Black Velvet’ is a smaller variety with soft, dark green, heart-shaped leaves with white veins. H x S: 1m x 50cm