Elephant ear is a common name for several groups of plants within the family Araceae. The most commonly cultivated types of elephant ear plant come from the genus Colocasia, which are native to Polynesia and southeast Asia. They are perennial, tuber-based plants with large leaves that resemble the ears of an elephant, hence the common name. Often grown as houseplants and in tropical gardens, elephant ears come in many varieties.
One of the most fascinating varieties of elephant ears is "Black Magic" (Colocasia esculenta). Named for the nearly black color of its foliage, this variety is actually dark purple in color with a matte coating on its leaves. Grown in sheltered outdoor areas or larger spaces inside, "Black Magic" requires humus-rich, well drained soil in order to achieve its full size of 6 feet in height with an equally wide spread. This variety can be grown outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 to 10, where it acts as a perennial.
Imperial taro (Colocasia antiquorum) is an extremely fast-growing variety of elephant ear, reaching 5 feet in just one growing season. It can be grown in zones 4 to 6 as an annual, but is a perennial in zones 7 to 10. Although it prefers ultra-rich humus soil, it also does well in standard garden soil, but seasonal fertilization is recommended. What makes this variety different from other elephant ear plants is its striking coloration, which is purplish-black with vibrant green veining along its large, heart-shaped leaves.
Dwarf Elephant Ear
The hardiest variety of colcasia, dwarf elephant ear (Colocasia Fallax) can withstand much cooler outdoor temperatures than other species. Although it only reaches 18 inches in height, dwarf elephant ear spreads dramatically, creating a 2-foot-wide clump over its first two years. The leaves are more rounded than other varieties with a much less pronounced heart-like shape. Slightly velvety and dark-green, the leaves have a silvery-white stripe down the center with radiating veins. In zones 6 to 10, dwarf elephant ear can be grown as an outdoor annual, provided it is given protection from frost.
Princess taro (Colocasia affinis 'Jenningsii') is a dwarf variety of elephant ear plant reaching only 1 1/2 to 2 feet in height. Showy and dramatic, this variety has 1-foot-long bluish-gray leaves edged in vibrant green. Bands of green are arranged in a spoke-like pattern radiating from the central vein. It prefers partial shade and cannot tolerate even the lightest frost, so it is best grown as an annual outside zones 7 to 10.