If you are looking for the genus of plants that contains some of the most stunning, eye-catching, and unique foliage to have on display in your home, look no further than the Alocasia genus. Also known as Elephant Ears, these beautiful tropicals are native to the South Pacific Islands, most notably the Philippines, as well as Asia and Eastern Australia. In their natural climate, they love moisture and humidity, living happily along the forest floor underneath the tropical canopy of the trees overhead. Due to this habitat, they have developed large leaves to help give them an edge over their competition (i.e. other jungle plants) when it comes to soaking up as much light as possible. Some specimens can grow leaves up to 3 ft. long!
With around 80 species that exist in the wild, their leaf shapes can exist in a vast array of forms. Their striking foliage can be seen in large or small forms, arrow-shaped or heart-shaped, heavily contrasted veining, intricately textured, or glossy and waxy, which is why people love to have them all in their collections. The following are the most common varieties that you can expect to see in your houseplant excursions:
Also known as the African Mask Plant, this is one of the most common dwarf varieties you will see in a plant store or greenhouse. Its dark purple leaves are shaped like an arrowhead and have contrasting thick, creamy veins running through them, with unique, wavy edges.
One of the rarer varieties of Alocasia, that is more attainable than some of the other rare species, Alocasia Frydek, aka Alocasia 'Green Velvet', has velvety, dark green leaves shaped like an arrowhead with highly defined and contrasting silvery green veins. They are a little bit finicky and require a highly humid environment.
This gorgeous species of Alocasia has broad, green leaves laced with silvery veins and stunning pink stems. The undersides of the leaves are also a beautiful contrasting burgundy, making this plant delightful to look at from all angles. As with quite a few varieties, this one is a little bit finicky and loves humidity.
Since the larger species of Alocasia are commonly used in planters during the springtime, this is a variety that you will see often in your local garden centres and greenhouses. Both the stems and veins of each leaf are a contrasting dark purple to the green of the heart-shaped leaves. Four different varieties of Elephant Ear were crossed to create this hybrid that has larger leaves and can withstand cooler temperatures.
Although these are the most popular varieties, some other varieties that are more difficult to find, but equally as beautiful in their own ways, are Alocasia Bambino, Alocasia Wentii, Alocasia Black Velvet, Alocasia Lauterbachiana, Alocasia Dragon Scale, Alocasia Cuprea, and Alocasia Scaleprum. There are plenty of species for both indoor and outdoor gardening, but most of the varieties propagated for indoor use are smaller hybrids, and are grown for their distinctive foliage.
Known as one of the faster growing houseplants, in the right conditions, plenty of Alocasia varieties can grow new leaves every week, doubling in size from the previous leaf! They sprout their leaves from thick rhizomes, or tubers, that live beneath the surface, which also store lots of water, along with the thick, succulent-like stems. Despite Alocasia's loving moisture, they can be a little counterintuitive to water, as they prefer their soil to be a little on the drier side but they LOVE humidity.
This is the reason they can be a little finicky and sensitive for first-time plant owners, or even experienced ones, and that's why they are often kept in greenhouse-like conditions. With the correct care, they will certainly reward you with one beautiful leaf after another! Speaking about care, let's get into what they need to remain that stunning focal point of your home. One thing to remember is that each plant is a unique living being and will have varying needs, especially in their individual conditions as no two homes are the same. Pay attention to the needs of your Alocasia throughout the year and you will have a long and happy relationship.
One thing to remember is that each plant is a unique living being and will have varying needs, especially in their individual conditions - no two homes are the same. Pay attention to the needs of your plant throughout the year and you will grow a healthy houseplant.
Just like in their natural environment, where the broad leaves reach for the dappled sunlight from the forest floor, Alocasias love bright, indirect light. Their large leaves allow for plenty of surface area to absorb the bright light that they love and they will produce larger and larger leaves when they receive these light levels. They should be placed in a location where they can "see" as much of the sky as possible, some morning or late afternoon sun will be just fine as well, and they will stay as compact as possible, pushing out plenty of new growth.
Even though Alocasias will tolerate medium light levels, it would be best to keep them in the bright indirect light, as we often want our plants to stay as full and lush as possible. Light levels also change throughout the year, as there is much more light during the longer, warmer days of spring and summer, and a lot less light in the shorter, cooler days of the winter. You may have to move your plant in order to avoid too much light or not enough light, depending on the time of year.
Lighting Tip: To encourage upright and even growth, since plants will always grow towards their light source, rotate your plant every time you water it!
The lowest light conditions that Alocasias can handle, which would be in the medium light classification of the indoor lighting spectrum, include the following:
- In the middle of a room with a regular-sized South, West, or East facing window
- Next to a North-facing window
- Next to a South, West, or East facing window that has obstructions (i.e. nearby condo, overhang, large tree, etc.)
When in their lowest light settings, houseplants will more often retain the shape that they come in or become stretched. The rate of growth will also be slower, the size of the new leaves will probably be on the smaller side, and there may even be some leaf loss, as plants will shed what they can't support. Remember that plants will grow based on how much light they receive, so this is something to keep in mind when you are choosing where to put your plant!
In order to have a stunning visual display of a houseplant, here are some ideal lighting recommendations for you to keep your plant in:
- Directly next to a North or East-facing window
- Next to, or close by, a South, Southwest, or West-facing window that has sheer curtains (only a couple millimetres thick) for some bright, diffused light. They cannot handle prolonged, direct sunlight so the curtains keep the leaves from getting burned, although morning or late afternoon sun will not be harmful.
- Next to a South, Southwest, or West-facing window that has some obstructions outside but still receives plenty of glorious light.
- A meter or so away from a South, Southwest, or West-facing window without curtains or obstructions.
Of all plant care requirements, light levels have the greatest impact on plant growth, so it is important to understand the light levels in your home and what you have available for your plants. For Alocasias, too much sun can result in scorched leaves and too little light can result in loss of leaves as well as loss of their vibrant colourings. If you want your plant to remain full and bushy, consistently pushing out new growth, keep it in brighter light. Also, using clean, sharp scissors, trim any dead, discoloured, damaged, or diseased leaves and stems as they occur.
Alocasia Pink Dragon
Since they grow in the tropics in their native environment, Alocasias enjoy humid, moist conditions, but not overly soggy soil. They store some water in their thick stems, as well as their rizhomes, or tubers, so they can be slightly tolerant of drier soil. Letting the soil go a little dry is important for two reasons: 1) they are sensitive to overwatering and 2) we want to let oxygen get to the roots. Water your plant when the top half of the soil is dry to the touch, which can be checked by sticking your fingers into the soil to feel for the moisture levels, if your finger comes up dry - it is time to water. Water the potting mix thoroughly, until it is evenly moist, allowing any excess water to drain out and dump this excess.
As for the frequency of watering, or how often to water, that will all depend on the light your plant is receiving, the warmth and humidity of your home, the size of the pot, as well as the pot that the plant is planted in. Generally, no two plants will be on the exact same watering frequency, as everyone's home is different! That being said, try to stay on a consistent watering schedule. You should expect to water your plant more often in the spring/summer months though, when the days are longer, warmer, and brighter, and less often in the dormant winter months when the days are shorter, cooler, and darker.
Watering Tip: Use distilled water, rainwater, or tap water that has sat out overnight to let any harmful chemicals that may burn the foliage, and cause brown edges, evaporate out.
Due to their epiphytic nature, Alocasia roots love moisture, but they are also used to being exposed to a healthy airflow, not living in dense, wet soil. Therefore, a chunky, well-draining soil, which will keep the soil from staying too moist for too long, is the best medium to keep your plant in. As long as there is some sort of aggregate in the soil, such as perlite, vermiculite, charcoal, lava rocks, orchid bark, or coconut coir, the soil will not become too compact and will allow for some airflow throughout the soil.
They key to Alocasias is high humidity. As we mentioned above, they love moisture but not soggy soil, so the humidity around the plant is key to increase those moisture levels. Even though some varieties can handle lower humidity, the wear and tear of the dry air will begin to show on their leaves, through crispy tips or yellow edges. Be sure to keep them away from any drafts, such as cold windows in the winter, cold rooms, radiators, or any heating/air conditioning vents blowing air though. They are still a tropical plant so they won't do well being placed in a cool, dry area in the long run!
Even though they can survive in our basic home humidity, they love a warm, humid environment. If you are willing to spend the extra time and effort, here are some ways you can increase the humidity in the air around your plant:
- Mist your plant's leaves every day to increase the ambient humidity for a short period of time around the plant
- Group your plants together with similar moisture needs, this will also increase the ambient humidity around your plant
- Place the nursery pot on top of a bed of rocks that are covered in water (this increases the humidity in the air around the plant)
- Invest in a humidifier to increase the overall humidity in the room (this will benefit any other plants you have as well)
It is important to keep your plant in a warm room, with temperatures between 18 - 30 C, as well as with increased humidity, since cooler temperatures could force your plant into dormancy. Fluctuations in temperature can also inhibit growth, as well as potentially damaging the sensitive leaves of Alocasias. Even though they are grown as houseplants, keeping your plant outdoors during the Spring and Summer months can be incredibly beneficial to it, since the natural warmth and humidity will create a beautiful environment for it (avoiding the AC). It is best to keep your plant in an area sheltered from the wind, where it still receives bright, indirect light, but you can read how to transition your plant outdoors in our guide here.
Even though most houseplants tend to go through a period of dormancy during the Fall and Winter months, we wanted to include a specific section for Alocasia's as they certainly will go through this dormant period. Dormant periods can be shock to plant parents as there are things that occur, which never occurred normally, and that can be a little nerve-wracking! During an Alocasia's dormancy, their growth will slow down, or halting altogether, not producing any new leaves until the Spring months. They are even prone to leaf loss, potentially dropping all their leaves, if their conditions are not met throughout this time.
There is a lot less light during the shorter, cloudier days of the Winter months and this is all part of the plants natural lifecycle. Since they are not actively growing, it is best to water less often (not with less water each time) than you had been previously, waiting until the soil is mostly dry before doing so again. Also, hold off on fertilizing throughout this entire time period, as they don't need the food if they are not actively putting in energy to produce new leaves. Keep your plant in a bright, warm room, but away from and heaters or radiators, as they still will require that high humidity that they have become accustomed to, especially during those drier months.
Alocasia Dark Star
Finally, once the sun starts to show its face for longer periods during the Spring and Summer months, your plant should perk right back up and begin to grow as if nothing had happened. Don't worry if your plant is a little slower to start up again, they need a little bit of time to adjust, but then they should grow back as healthy as ever!
Since Alocasias are known for growing quite quickly, if in bright light, it is essential that they receive the nutrients needed to support this growth. To fertilize your Alocasia, feed your plant once a month with a diluted liquid fertilizer for indoor plants, organic fertilizers are also a great option. If you wish to feed more often, make sure that the fertilizer is even more diluted. Too much plant food can result in the salts from the fertilizer building up in the soil and causing burns on the leaves. Also, hold off on fertilizing your plant throughout the wintertime, as they are in their dormancy period, described above, and won't need the additional nutrients.
Like all other aroids, Alocasia are toxic to both humans and pets. Due to the calcium oxalate crystals that all parts of the plant contain, they are best kept away from children and animals. If ingested, depending on how much, they can cause eye irritation, mouth irritation, tongue swelling/irritation, swelling of the throat, pawing at the face, and possible vomiting. Very rarely, extreme swelling of the upper airway can occur making it difficult to breathe.
The juices from the plant can also irritate your skin, leading to a rash if you are very sensitive, so make sure to use gloves when working with them or wash your hands after handling them. Keep the plant away from children and pets and call poison control, your doctor, or veterinarian if a person or animal ingests a plant leaf.
Common Pests & Problems
Alocasias can be quite finicky, especially when grown indoors in our dry, Canadian homes, but they can be kept happy if the above care steps are followed (focus on the humidity!). Despite happy conditions, there are still a list of potential problems they can experience throughout their lifespan. Here are the most common issues you could experience in your time with your Alocasias:
These amazing tropicals are an incredible plant to have in your home, with truly unique foliage and a commanding display. Despite their tendency to be a little finicky, they can live truly happy in the home as long as a few modifications are made. You definitely need one of each variety!