The stunning Alocasia is a tropical plant with beautiful foliage that calls tropical and sub-tropical regions of Asia, South Pacific Islands, the Philippines, and eastern Australia home.
Growing the Alocasia will be a leading actor in your home garden, and an attention-getting centerpiece in your home or business decor.
Often called “African Mask”, the Alocasia is probably best known as “Elephant Ears” because it is quite famous for its leaves. This tropical plant is regularly cultivated as a houseplant in climates that are non-tropical.
In this growing guide, I cover everything about the Alocasia plant, along with care and grow tips.
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Alocasia Plant Overview
The Alocasia plant belongs to the Araceae family and is a perennial flowering tuberous or rhizomatous plant.
The Alocasia’s famous leaves grow at the end of a petiole or stem that can grow anywhere from three to five feet in length. These stems grow from the base of the plant. Leaves can grow pointing either upward or downward depending on the species.
More than eighty different species of Elephant Ear exist as well as a number of hybrids. Often, the hybrid versions are bred to achieve the lovely form of their leaves, their color, or even their size.
Some well-known varieties include:
- Alocasia x amazonica “Polly” – This is a hybrid with leaves that are shaped like an arrowhead. They are dark bronze-green in color. The texture will be somewhat leathery, and the edges may be a bit wavy.
- Alocasia baginda “Silver Dragon” – Features silver-white cordate leaves with very dark green veins.
- Alocasia cuprea “Red Secret” – Features rounded leaves with deep veins and a shiny purple tint.
- Alocasia lauterbachiana “Purple Sword” – Features dark green and purple leaves in the form of an arrowhead that grow upward.
- Alocasia macrorrhizos – Also called a “Giant Taro,” it is a huge plant that may grow as tall as fifteen feet and spread as wide as eight feet. Individual leaves can measure three to four feet long and two to four feet wide. If you have the room, it’s truly impressive.
- Alocasia sanderiana – Often referred to as a “Kris” plant, this species boasts extremely dark green leaves and is rather exotic. The rather long leaves are pointed and have white veins throughout. The edges of the leaves are scalloped with a white outline as well.
Most species of alocasia will do fine in the shade or a shady area, however, they do seem to appreciate bright sunlight that is filtered. Larger varieties can be hardened or trained to support full tropical sunlight.
All varieties should be kept humid, moist, and warm. Faded leaves can be trimmed away. The alocasia does produce a bloom that is a light yellow in color and is not particularly showy.
Alocasia plants are rapid growers. Even if you live in a northern climate with a short growing season, you’ll be able to grow Alocasia within the shorter periods. In the warmer months, they can produce a new leaf at the rate of one a week and each new leaf may be larger than the previous one.
Leaf shapes will range from a wide heart-shaped form to a narrow arrowhead design. They feature veins that are colorful, and their texture may vary from glossy, to waxy, or from slick to thick.
In the late fall and winter months, this plant will enter into its dormant period and will rest. The plant will cease to grow, maintaining its status at the moment that it goes to sleep. But if it’s too cold, it could also die.
Care should continue though, so that when it awakens it will begin once again to grow rapidly.
Soil for Alocasia
As Alocasia are tropical plants, they love moist soil and higher humidity. Keep your soil moist, but do be sure to allow excess water to run off through the pot’s drainage hole.
Alocasia should be planted in loose and well-draining potting soil, or a crumbly type of loamy mix.
Soil pH needs to be slightly acidic measuring between 5.5 and 6.5 to keep your plant healthy and happy.
Should you want to mix your own soil, use porous potting soil with one part perlite and one part peat. Outdoor soil should preferably be clay, loamy or sandy.
Temperature for Alocasia
They can be grown outdoors in warmer climates or in warmer months. If you decide to cultivate them outside, you may want to bury the entire pot directly underneath the soil to give your outdoor garden a totally natural look.
Alocasia will suffer if the temperature drops below 60° Fahrenheit. Some alocasia varieties may die during cold months and then resprout with warmer weather.
These plants should be protected from cold drafts of air from doors or windows, and should also be kept away from air conditioning vents as well as heaters.
They seldom survive very cold winters, or arid or dry environments.
Light for Alocasia
Light requirements will depend a great deal on the variety you select. You may want to ask your nursery if the Elephant Ear you choose is trained for the sun.
Alocasia plants need bright and indirect light, because of its influence by its natural tropical habitat. The color of leaves will be healthier and more appealing in plants that appreciate brighter light.
They will be found on a tropical forest floor under a naturally formed canopy of trees that helps them avoid direct sunlight.
Direct sunlight will burn their foliage, so avoid placing them where direct exposure to the sun can occur. They also do not do well in low-light conditions.
Their location should have indirect, bright light. Rotate the plant regularly to encourage balanced growth.
Water and Humidity for Alocasia
The Elephant Ear loves water, so it should be kept moist all year long. Moist yes, soggy absolutely not. They will require a bit less water during the winter or dormant season.
The top two inches of the soil bed should be allowed to dry out before watering. This will assist you in keeping moisture even in the garden bed. If you allow the soil to become soggy or waterlogged, the plant will be at risk for fungal infections and disease.
When you water, make sure the water runs out of the drainage holes in the container. Discard any excess water as your plant should not stand in water.
If you want to give your Alocasia a good soak, place the plant in your bathtub or sink. Fill the sink with about four inches of tepid water. Leave the plant there for about forty-five minutes to an hour and allow it to soak up water through the drainage holes in the container’s bottom.
The water should reach the top two inches of the soil bed. If not, water from the top to increase saturation. Then drain the sink and allow your alocasia to drain thoroughly while resting in the sink. Once drained, it can be returned to its location.
They will thrive in an environment that is very humid. If you do not run a humidifier, you can place the planter on a pebble tray: The tray should be filled with pebbles and then with water to just below the container’s bottom. You can also boost humidity with fine misting on a regular basis.
- Related Article: Best Humidifiers for Plants
Fertilizer for Alocasia
If your Alocasia plant is large, it may be a heavy feeder. Ideally, they should be fed with a liquid fertilizer during the growing season. You may choose to use small doses of granule fertilizer as an alternative.
Generally, it is a good rule of thumb to fertilize houseplants from spring through fall, at least once a month.
Pruning and Repotting Alocasia
Pruning Alocasia is easy if done correctly. It requires only one pruning technique: cutting back hardwood stems to promote new growth.
You must cut off dead wood first. Dead wood does not contribute to healthy growth. Cut away old branches, twigs, and leaves. Remove anything that looks diseased or damaged.
Cut back hardwood stems to three times the length of the pot. Do this every other week until the plant has reached full size.
It’s recommended to repot Alocasia annually into a larger container with fresh well-draining soil. It is a good idea when repotting to divide the rhizome to keep your plant at a size that is manageable for you. You can always gift your new Alocasia or increase your own collection.
The simplest method for propagating alocasia is to cut a piece of the rhizome found underground.
Plant it in a separate pot with loose well-draining soil, and keep it warm and moist until a new plant emerges.
Alocasia Common Plant Pests, Diseases, Problems, and More
Even though Alocasia plants can be quite large and even intimidating due to their size, they are sensitive to a variety of diseases. The more common infections include:
- Leaf spots
- Crown, stem, or root rot
- Xanthomonas leaf spot
You’ll know your Alocasia is sick if you see dark brown or black spots on its leaves with a yellow edge around the spot. Disease can be prevented with correct watering.
These plants must not be overwatered. Foliage should be kept dry and there should be good air circulation in the area where the plant is located.
Should the leaves of your Alocasia begin to yellow, it will probably be due to a moisture problem and in particular overwatering. Either yellow or brown leaves may indicate root rot.
Drooping leaves with brown edges most probably indicates that the humidity is low. This will be followed by the leaf turning completely yellow, then brown, and finally shriveling. If you forget to water and the soil bed dries out, the leaves will appear limp and droopy.
Too much exposure to direct sunlight will cause foliage to burn or scorch. If there is too little light, the leaves may turn yellow.
If your Alocasia is sprouting new growth and the older leaves become yellow, especially toward the base of the plant, don’t worry. That means your Alocasia plant is sending energy toward its new growth.
Pests that infest the Alocasia include:
- Spider Mites (Check the undersides of leaves for webbing)
To prevent pest infestations, keep the leaves free of dust and spray them for several weeks with warm soapy water to keep the pests at bay.
Should you find your plant with an infestation, try neem oil, which is an organic all-purpose pesticide, miticide, and fungicide. Neem oil will kill pests and destroy any eggs.
Neem oil is systemic, so your Alocasia will absorb the oil into its circulatory system. This will poison any pests from within the plant. Do not overuse it because it can lead to discoloration and the weakening of your plant.
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Alocasia grows extremely quickly and in some cases, when grown outside, may be considered invasive. This is especially true in the gulf coast area of the continental United States. If you decide to include this in your outdoor garden, check to see if there are any restrictions in your town or region.
Alocasia, like many potentially invasive plants, will grow from rhizomes that are a form of a stem that grows underneath the soil or underground, but horizontally.
Since they have nodes, new roots will sprout from the nodes downwards, while new stems will shoot upward to the surface. This is a form of reproduction of the plant.
Invasive plants that have rhizomes can be quite difficult to eradicate, because even a small piece of rhizome left in the soil bed can become a new plant
Alocasia Toxicity and Pets
Unfortunately, the Alocasia is extremely poisonous as the leaves contain oxalate crystals. If a house pet, either dog or cat, or even a small child bites one of these leaves, the oxalate crystals will be released and may irritate the mouth.
That causes it to swell as well as the throat and gastrointestinal tract. In some cases, extreme swelling may cause the upper airway to partially or fully close, making breathing difficult or impossible.
The best solution is prevention. Keep your alocasia away from children and your furry four-legged friends. Should they bite, chew or ingest this plant, contact your local poison control unit, your doctor, or your veterinarian immediately.
Symptoms of oxalate crystal poisoning may include:
- Excessive drooling
- Blistering inside the mouth or in the throat
- Lack of appetite
- Pain in the mouth or throat
Growing Alocasia Final Thoughts
The Alocasia houseplant boasts some of the most dramatic and striking foliage among houseplants. It has become increasingly popular with home gardeners thanks to its visual appeal and sculptural form.
The Alocasia will make a statement wherever you put it. While improving any indoor decor, it will also inevitably attract well-deserved attention.
If you have the space for a larger species, go for it! A well-lit entrance hall, a lobby, a waiting room, or a living room will benefit from having this impressive plant as part of its interior design.
For more houseplant care and grow guides, look at these articles:
Growing Alocasia FAQs
Is Alocasia good as an indoor plant?
Yes, the Alocasia is a good indoor plant and as a tropical plant, it does need plenty of light. The Alocasia needs bright indirect sunlight. They love water, so be sure to water them regularly during dry periods, and mist them occasionally when needed. The Alocasia leaves are beautiful and will grab the attention of your visitors indoors and out.
Is Alocasia easy to care for?
It’s very simple to take care of the Alocasia. You just need to give it enough indirect, bright light and regular watering. Water deeply once every week if not watered daily. Do not let the soil get too wet, but also not too dry. Avoid direct sunlight, which could burn the leaves. Remove dead leaves promptly.
Why is my Alocasia plant dying?
There are many reasons why your Alocasia might die. Some common problems that can kill your plants are:
– Overwatering or underwatering
– Overfeeding or nutrient deficiency
– Poor water drainage
– Lack of sun exposure
– Pests such as aphids, mites, spider mite, whiteflies, scale insects, slugs, snails, ants, etc.
– Diseases like bacterial wilt, fungal diseases, viruses
– Environmental factors.
Go through each one and the process of elimination.
How often should you water Alocasia?
Look to water your Alocasia at least once per week as these are tropical plants. If you live in a drier climate, then you’ll want to water more frequently than those who reside in wet climates. In cold temperatures, water less frequently.
Does Alocasia like to be misted?
You don’t necessarily need to mist your Alocasia. However, they do enjoy being sprayed periodically throughout their growing season. This helps prevent disease and pests while keeping the leaves looking fresh.
When should I repot Alocasia?
Repotting Alocasia is recommended each year as they grow quickly. Repot into a large container with fresh potting soil that drains well. Be careful not to overfill the pot.