As the name suggests, elephant ear plants are characterized by large leaves with the shape of the elephant ear. Most people are not aware of the fact that those plants which are commonly known as elephant ear plants, actually belong to the different species of the most diverse family of tropical plants called Araceae. This large family consists of almost 107 genera and over 3700 species, which are otherwise known as aroids. Some plants that belong to the different genera of Araceae family possess large leaves which resemble an elephant ear shape. Such plants are commonly known as elephant ear plants and belong to the genera of Alocasia, Xanthosoma, Philodendron, Anthurium, Caladium, Monstera and Colocasia.
While most of the plants belonging to these genera possess elephant shaped leaves, they differ in size and color. Some species of Anthurium as well as Alocasia have leaves with a length of around 12 feet, and some plants of Philodendron and Xanthosoma possess a length of about 6 feet. But when grown as garden plants, you cannot expect such large-sized leaves as seen in the wild varieties. The genus Caladium has plants with moderately large leaves, but there are plants with small leaves too. So if you are searching for an elephant ear plant of your choice, it is always better to have a basic idea about these plants and the genus which they belong to. This will help you to easily identify the plant of your choice.
Elephant Ear Plants Classified as per the Genus
Below listed are the various genera under which elephant ear plants are classified into. These are not single species, but different species belonging to different genera of the same family Araceae.
As mentioned above, Alocasia is a genus of the family Araceae, and consists of more than 70 species which are natives of Asia, Oceania and South America. These plants are rhizomatous or bulbous perennials with large heart-shaped or arrow-headed leaves, which grow on long petioles. In most species, the leaves have large and prominent veins which may differ in color. Such plants with large leaves are also known as elephant ear plants. The Anthurium-like flowers of these plants are inconspicuous and consist of a spadix (floral column), which is often covered by a hood-like spathe (pale green or white in color). These flowers have short stalks and are often found hidden in the large foliage. Most of the plants of the genus Alocasia are good for frost-free areas and can be grown in containers or greenhouses.
These plants with beautiful large leaves impart a tropical feeling to the surroundings and should be planted in locations with part shade to full shade with organic and well-drained soil. Most of the plants of this genus can tolerate wet conditions and deep shade, while some of them can even withstand full sun, but they are sensitive to frost and winds. As these tropical plants can spread fast, you must take care to thin them regularly. Even though some parts of these plants like the stems are considered as edible, some of them can even be poisonous. If you are not aware of the proper method of cleaning and cooking, then refrain from the task to avoid health hazards. The most popular Alocasia plants are Alocasia macrorrhiza or giant taro, Alocasia plumbeahas with purple leaves, and Alocasia X amazonica with dark green leaves and thick light green veins.
The various species of the genus Colocasia are widely grown all over the world, especially in the tropical regions, and are known by several names like taro, black magic, wild taro, black taro, dalo, dasheen, calaloo, eddy and potato of the tropics. They are popular as ornamental plants as well as a food source. These tropical plants are considered as among the earliest cultivated plants, as the corms (short, vertical, swollen underground plant stem that serves as a storage organ used by some plants) and leaves are cooked and used as food. As in the case of Alocasia, Colocasia should not be consumed if you don’t know the correct way of cooking them. These plants are also popular as elephant ear plants as the leaves of some of the species are very large and resemble the ears of elephants.
Colocasia is a very small genus with seven species, and Colocasia esculenta are the most popular and widely grown plants which are otherwise known as taro or elephant ear plants. There are over 200 cultivars of Colocasia esculenta, which is a highly variable species with various leaf forms and sizes. There are species with very large leaves, while some plants have very small or comparatively smaller leaves. The color of the leaves can vary from green, black, purple or bluish black. The leaves can be arrow-headed or oval. In most plants, there is a split at the base of the leaves where the petioles get attached. The flowers are more or less like Alocasia flowers. It is easy to grow Colocasia in tropical and semi-tropical areas, but can also be grown in cold regions, though they may become dormant during the winters. These tropical plants need good watering and slightly acidic soil for an ideal growth.
Xanthosoma genus of the family Araceae consists of around 50 species of tropical plants, which are natives to the tropical America. Most plants in this genus are grown for the tubers used as food by the local people, and are known as malanga, new cocoyam, tannia, tannier, yautía, macabo, taioba, etc. The most common among them is Xanthosoma sagittifolium, which is variable in nature and has many plants with various leaf sizes. Apart from the agricultural purposes, some plants of this genus are also grown as ornamental plants and are popular as elephant ear plants for their large leaves. Though plants of Xanthosoma species resemble those belonging to the genus Colocasia, there are some basic differences between the two. The leaves of the latter are peltate – the petiole joins with the leaf at a place which is away from the edge. In case of Xanthosoma, the petioles join the leaves at their notched edges. The length of the leaves of these plants may range between one foot to six feet. The tubers are formed at the base of the plant as a corm with smaller cormels. Though mostly used for agricultural purposes, some species with large foliage are used for landscaping too. If you want to grow them as outdoor plants, you have to store the corms indoors during winters and plant them in spring.
Elephant ear plants which belong to the genus philodendron are very popular as houseplants and also for landscaping. This genus which belongs to the South American and West Indian tropics, consists of around 900 species and is considered as the second largest genus of the family Araceae. The word Philodendron means tree-loving, and most of the species are found attached to trees either in epiphytic forms or rooted in soil and attached to trees for support. The leaves are typically heart-shaped and smaller in size during their emergence. But the mature leaves are very large in size and lobed with holes or divisions. These alternate leaves emerge from sheath-like structures called cataphylls. Most of the plants of Philodendron genus develop aerial roots which are used for clinging to the attachment or hang from the plant.
There are many popular varieties of philodendron which include hybrids too. Among them are the heart leaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum), which is a tender evergreen vine from Brazil with shiny green leaves and slender stems. Another popular species is the cut leaf philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum), which is a tree-like evergreen shrub with large elephant-ear like leaves. The plants belonging to the genus Philodendron are very sensitive and should be planted outside in places with very warm climate. They need bright filtered light or full shade and moist and well-drained soil. They should be watered well, but don’t make the soil soggy. If you want to grow these elephant ear plants in containers, make sure that the potting soil offers good drainage and the plant is getting bright, but indirect sunlight. You have to prune the plant regularly to control the unwanted growth.
Anthurium is one of the largest genus of the family Araceae, with more than 1000 species, and still many more are being discovered every year. Most of these plants are natives to south and central America. These plants are seen in various forms, but most of them are evergreen, bushy or climbing epiphytes, with roots hanging to the ground. These plants have single leaves which can be oval-shaped, heart-shaped or spatula-shaped. While some species have very thick leaves, others have thin ones and the leaves have a matte or glossy look, as per the species. One of the interesting characters of the Anthurium leaves is that they can move to track the Sun. Some of these plants with large leaves are also referred to as elephant ear plants.
Unlike the plants in the other genera of the family Araceae, Anthurium species sport colorful spathe which are popular as the flowers of these plants. Actually, this petal-like colorful part is the spathe that cover the actual inflorescence. The spathe is large and leathery, and comes in various colors in different species. There are many popular varieties of Anthurium, like Anthurium andraeanum, Anthurium crystallinum, Anthurium scherzerianum, etc. These plants require bright and indirect light, moist and well-drained soil, high humidity, etc., for good growth and flowering. Watering and fertilization is a must during the growing season. Outdoor plants should be protected from direct hot sunlight.
This genus of the family Araceae consists of around seven species, which are very popular for the large, showy and colorful leaves. They are otherwise known as elephant ear plants, heart of Jesus or angel wings. The plants that belong to this genus are natives to Brazil and its surrounding regions. In case of wild plants, they can grow up to a height of around three feet, and the leaves have a length of around two feet. These statistics cannot be expected from those grown as houseplants. These plants are widely grown for ornamental purposes, and the arrowhead-shaped leaves come in a wide range of sizes and colors like white, red, pink, green, rose, silver, bronze, etc.
For good growth, these plants need fertile and moist soil, which is well-drained and should be grown in part sun and part shade. Most of these plants do not tolerate full sun. In tropical climates, these plants can be grown in the ground. In other parts, it is better to dig out the tubers during the fall when the leaves die, and store the tubers indoors to be planted in the winters.
The genus Monstera has around 22 species of plants which are characterized by very large leaves with holes. This genus got its name from the Latin name, which means monstrous, after the huge leaves. They are natives to the tropical America, and are evergreen vines which can grow to a height of around 65 feet, attaching to trees with the help of aerial roots. The alternate leaves are often dark green in color and their length can range between 0.5 to 2.5 feet, with some species sporting leaves with around 4 feet in length. Most of these plants have leaves with holes, and the inflorescence produce fruits which are edible in some species, especially Monstera deliciosa. The ripe fruits of Monstera deliciosa are edible and taste like a mix of banana and pineapple. Plants belonging to the genus Monstera are also known as elephant ear plants after the big leaves, and are popular as houseplants. These elephant ear plants require a temperature that ranges between 20 to 30° C with high humidity and shade for good growth. It cannot tolerate frost and may die in such conditions. The growth will stop as the temperature dips below 10° C. It has to be planted outdoors for flowering, which happens after three years of planting, and the fruits will take around one year to ripen.
In short, elephant ear plants are not a single plant species, but several plants belonging to various species of the family Araceae. Though the basics of elephant ear plant care are common to most of these plants, it may vary with the specific species. However, elephant ear house plants are very popular for the large and colorful leaves with different designs, and some of them can be used for indoor gardening too, which helps in enhancing the look of the place around.