This Guide to Alocasia Care Grows Stunning Elephant Ear Houseplants
These popular plants feature stunning foliage and instantly add visual appeal to any space.
The genus Alocasia contains at least 80 species of tuberous, herbaceous perennials that originate from South Asian tropical forests and jungles. More commonly known as the elephant ear plant, alocasia is grown as an annual or houseplant in temperate regions. These plants are beloved for their beautiful foliage. Fortunately, alocasias can grow well in pots indoors, provided they receive enough humidity and light. They can brighten up a space in any home if you can care for them properly.
Alocasia Care at a Glance
Common Name: Elephant ear, elephant’s ear
Scientific Name: Alocasia spp.
Soil: Loose, well-draining, pH 5.5 to 6.5
Light: Bright indirect light indoors, some shade outdoors
Water: Moist, but not soggy
Food: General-purpose houseplant food
Temperature and Humidity: 60 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, moderate to high humidity
Propagation: Offset division
Safety: Mildly toxic to humans, dogs, cats, and horses
Alocasia plants feature distinctive and stunning foliage and range in size from 8 to 36 inches long. They have long, elegant stalks with leaves shaped like arrowheads, hearts, and similar structures. The leaves have flat or wavy edges and contrasting veining.
Belonging to the ever-popular Aroid family, alocasia is commonly referred to as elephant’s ear. The plants are native to the tropical rainforests of India, Southeast Asia, and southern China, and they can also be found throughout the islands of the South Pacific and Eastern Australia. In most of the U.S. (exceptions are the warmest U.S. zones) and other non-native regions, elephant ears are grown indoors only or outdoors during the summer months.
During the growing season, alocasias are fast growers. These fantastic plants can grow a new leaf weekly, with each successive leaf coming in at twice the size of the previous week’s leaves. In the winter, however, its growth rate slows. Alocasias are not frost-tolerant and must be brought indoors to overwinter in any region with a chance of freeze.
Although they are best known for their attractive foliage, these tropical beauties can bloom under the perfect growing conditions when they reach maturity. However, in most temperate areas, the warm growing season is too short for these blooms, and the indoor growing environment in most homes doesn’t support rapid growth year-round.
Types of Alocasia
- Alocasia Black Velvet (Alocasia reginula) is a popular compact jewel alocasia with dark foliage and white venation.
- Alocasia Polly (Alocasia x amazonica ‘Polly’) is more commonly known as the African Mask Plant. It’s a popular houseplant known for its distinctive glossy leaves and striking veining.
- Variegated Alocasia (Alocasia macrorrhiza variegata) is a rare variegated variety featuring glossy leaves marbled with light green and white tones. It’s a large houseplant variety that’s perfect for wide open spaces.
- Alocasia Pink Dragon (Alocasia calidora ‘Pink Dragon’) is a lovely plant featuring dark green broad leaves and deep veins of contrasting white resembling dragon scales. This alocasia gets its “pink” name from the stems, which are a beautiful shade of pink, and the undersides of the leaves, which are burgundy.
- Alocasia Purple Sword (Alocasia lauterbachiana) features long spear-shaped dark greenish-purple leaves with scalloped edges and reddish hues.
- Alocasia Golden Lutea (Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Lutea’) is a large variety, reaching 8 to 10 feet in height with a leaf width of 3 to 4 feet. It features neon yellow coloration of the stems and veins that gets brighter with age.
- Alocasia Jewel (Alocasia azlanii) is a rare specimen that features waxy, chocolate color leaves with iridescent purple veining.
Selecting Soil for Alocasia Plants
Alocasia thrives in well-aerated, organic, and loose soil. The plants need consistently moist soil but cannot survive damp, soggy conditions. Excess moisture can cause their roots to rot and decay quickly. An ideal potting mix should hold enough moisture while promoting excellent drainage. Alocasia prefers slightly acidic soil, making most standard peat-based potting mixes an excellent growing medium.
The Right Light
Alocasia grows naturally under the dense canopy of rainforests and jungles, thriving on dappled sunlight. These plants have different light requirements for indoor and outdoor spaces in temperate regions. Place an alocasia in a bright but indirect, filtered light when growing indoors. The plant should not be kept in full direct sunlight, as this can cause its leaves to burn. Alocasias can survive in medium light, but they cannot tolerate low light. For outdoors, alocasia thrives best in part sun, where it should receive direct morning sunlight only.
Alocasia needs moist—but not soggy—soil because it is susceptible to root rot. Thankfully, it’s possible to maintain that balance with proper watering habits, a well-draining soil mix, and a pot with sufficient drainage. Water the plant when around 25 to 50 percent of the soil volume is dry, and never let it dry out completely. When you water an alocasia, water until liquid flows through the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot, and discard any water accumulated in the saucer.
Fertilizing Alocasia Plants
The good news is that alocasia isn’t too picky about fertilizer. Like most actively growing plants, routine fertilization will help alocasias push out new growth. Varieties with huge leaves can especially benefit from regular feedings. A diluted complete liquid fertilizer (20-20-20) or a slow-release fertilizer are excellent choices for alocasia plants.
Setting the Temperature and Humidity
Alocasias prefer warmer temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes them perfect for growing indoors. Temperature fluctuations can inhibit growth and damage their leaves. If you place your alocasia outdoors during the warmer months, bring it back inside well before the temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Protect alocasia plants from drafts.
Alocasia houseplants need lots of humidity to thrive. Placing them in an area with high humidity is ideal, but if you live in a dry climate or don’t have a room with enough humidity indoors, use a humidifier or a pebble tray with water to help increase the humidity around the plant.
The best method of alocasia plant propagation is to divide its rhizomes. For outdoor plants, the best time of year to divide them is when the plant is coming out of dormancy from the winter, in spring or early summer. A healthy alocasia houseplant often will produce offsets, which are tiny copies of the adult plant, that can easily be removed and replanted in a separate container.
Alocasias are mildly toxic to dogs, cats, horses, and humans. Ingestion will cause mouth and stomach irritation and possibly vomiting. Keep alocasias out of reach of pets and young children.
Potential Pests and Diseases
Mealybugs, scale, aphids, and spider mites are all common pests for alocasias. The best way to prevent pest problems is to inspect your plant often and treat pests as soon as you see them. Also, keep the leaves clean and dust-free by wiping them down regularly. If your plant has an infestation, spray it with an insecticidal soap or neem oil to kill the adult pests and their eggs.
FAQ About Alocasia Care
Have a question not answered above? Read on to find out more about how to care for alocasia.
Q. How often do you water alocasia?
Water alocasia weekly and mist daily. However, keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Q. Does alocasia need sun?
Alocasias need bright indirect sunlight when grown indoors and part shade if grown outdoors.
Q. Is alocasia a good indoor plant?
Alocasias are excellent indoor plants if you meet their growing requirements (bright indirect light and some humidity). The stunning plants can add height, texture, drama, or a tropical feel to indoor spaces.
Q. Is alocasia an air purifier?
Houseplants offer many benefits, including improving the aesthetics of your space and mood. However, a 2019 Drexel University study showed that potted plants do not significantly improve air quality.
Q. Should I let my alocasia flower?
If you are lucky enough to see an alocasia flower, by all means, let it flower! Alocasias rarely bloom when grown indoors or outdoors in temperate climates.
Q. How do you bring alocasia back to life?
To revive any houseplant, you must first identify the cause of the plant’s issues, and then you can treat it. For most houseplants, the most common causes of plant ailments are improper watering habits and insufficient light.
Q. How do you make alocasia grow more leaves?
To help your alocasia to push out more foliage, make sure it receives plenty of bright indirect light. Don’t overwater the plant in winter in an attempt to force new growth—the alocasia is just resting for a bit.