By Tommy Clarkson from the March 2011 Edition
(Also known as: Amazon Elephant’s Ear, Green Velvet, Jewel Alocasia, Alocasia Alligator, Amazon Lily, African Black
Shield Plant, Alocasia Polly (or Poly) Hilo’s Beauty Elephant
Ear and I know a Mexican gardener who calls them (Vampire’s Ear!)
Enjoying full sun to partial shade, it is one of five species of similar palms originally found on tiny Round Island of the Mascarene Islands, east of Madagascar, but is now, virtually, at the point of extinction in its natural habitat.
I have thought that this uniquely, dramatic tropical beauty, with its striking, two-tone leaves, might better be named the
“Alias Plant” as it is called by so many different names.
And beyond that, there is no little debate about its creation – exactly who hybridized it. But by most accounts it appears to be a hybrid of the Southeast Asian Alocasia longiloba and
Alocasia sanderian and seems to have emerged in the public’s awareness in the 1950’s.
From here on I will endeavor to be a bit more exact – such as the fact that we know this highly attractive plant is hybrid family member of the 78 species in the genus Alocasia which is comprised of broad-leaved rhizomatous or tuberous perennials – perhaps best known for the Calla Lily and Jack-in-the-pulpit,
As a rule its magnificent leaves are 30.5 cm (12”) to 61 cm (24”) long and 15 cm (6”) to 30 cm (11″) wide. These generally reach at height of 61 cm (2’), though I’ve heard of them being – but have not seen them myself – them being between three and four feet tall.
These striking – deep dark, roughly serrated, green through dark purple to nearly jet black – heart-shaped, leaves are marked by boldly prominent, whitish or light green veins and deeply scalloped along their margins. Surrounding those primary lateral veins are very light colored zones and some clones have an intriguing network of silver veinlets that run between the primary lateral veins.
The underside is, more often than not, a matte purple in color. As a rule, each main trunk will only produce four to five leaves at a time and as a new leaf grows it sheds an older one.
The green-colored petiole is around 38 cm (15”) with a dullish brown variegation in its lower half. The corms (short swollen underground stem base) are white with a tint of pale pink.
While appreciating high humidity (low humidity can cause leaf dieback), these guys like bright, indirect light preferring about 60% shade. Confusing? Simply remember that they that they don’t like strong, direct sunlight. Another protective measure to take is that they need protection from the wind.
Like most of the Alocosias they like to keep their feet wet. But, allow the soil to dry slightly between watering. Ensure they are planted in well draining, well aerated potting soil.
(That “well draining” part is very important as too much standing moisture can cause crown rot.)
If used as an indoor plant, keep an eye out for spider mites – or scale if plant is stressed.
During the warmer summertime, feed once a month with a balanced, soluble plant food. And in order to have the best presentation, cut away dead and dying leaves and wipe off the leaves every now and again to enjoy the full majesty of their beauty.
By whatever name you decide to call them, they are a wonderful addition to your garden!
Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation - Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.