Native to Asia and Polynesia, the elephant ear (Colocasia esculentum) is a fast-growing perennial with heart-shaped leaves that can reach two feet across, according to the 1997 Sunset National Garden Book. Plants can grow to six feet high, though they die back in cold weather. Leaves are fragile and may be torn by high winds, but these plants add depth and interest to any landscape.
A member of the Araceae family, elephant ears are tuberous perennials and the roots, known as taro, are a starch staple in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands. Elephant ears are fast-growing and do flower, though only in the most humid climates. Flowers resemble large calla lilies.
Weather and Climate
Hardy in USDA growing zones 8 through 11, elephant ears thrive in partial sun with ample watering and slightly acidic soil. Ground around the plants should be kept moist. Elephant ears will die back when temperatures reach about 30 degrees F, but in tropical or subtropical climates, leafy growth will come back the following season. In colder climates, according to Gardening Know How, bulbs should be dug up and stored through the winter.
If you live in one of the cooler zones for this plant, protect elephant ears against freezing by covering with a sheet or plastic on coldest nights. The Sunset National Garden Book suggests adding an additional layer of mulch as colder weather approaches to keep the roots warm. Elephant ears also may be grown in containers in colder climates.
How to Plant
Plant elephant ear bulbs in early spring in a partially sunny spot. Soil should be well-draining and moist. Dig a three- to six-inch deep hole that is about twice as big as the tuber, and then cover the root with an organic soil and compost mixture. Love to Know suggests adding a layer of mulch and applying a nitrogen-rich fertilizer when planting and then applying monthly.
Elephant ears are invasive and spread new seeds throughout the growing season. You may start with one and end up with many more, so select a spot where additional plants will have room to grow. To prevent spreading, pull young elephant ears or grow in pots away from landscaped area.
The Sunset National Garden Book suggests mixing elephant ears with other large-leafed tropical plants or ferns.