Elephant Ear


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Elephant Ear, Xanthosoma sagittifolium

Family: Araceae

Sub-family: Aroideae

Also known as: the Arrowleaf, Yautia, or Malanga

This rather spectacular, stout, fast growing, clumping herb is called an elephant ear as a result of the obvious.  One look at the slightly floppy, sagittate (arrowhead shaped) leaves, growing up to six feet in length, fast explains from whence its name was derived.  

These somewhat thick and leathery leaves, at the end of stout, dark colored stems, are produced from underground tubers, called by some bulbs or corms. These are formed with a cluster of grayish brown to black cormels that look much like an overgrown gladiola bulb.

However, there is often confusion regarding plants called Elephant Ear.  It is a term sometimes applied to several other groups of plants which includes Alocasia, Philodendron, Anthurium, Colocasia, Xanthosoma, and Caladiums.  We’ll not discuss those here. . .  but may address the Alocasia macrorrhizos – the Giant Taro, that grows to twelve feet tall, soon. 

Depending upon who one wishes to believe, this particular species, Xanthosoma sagittifolium,originated in the West Indies, Central America or Southern America.  Regardless of wherever it started, it can now be found growing throughout the tropics of the Americas.  And well it grows indeed, as in the right environs it can reach the stunning height of a real elephant’s ear – nine feet.

It is related and quite similar in appearance to taro.  Both are herbaceous perennials found in bogs, swamps and along streams.  Each has long petioles and wavy margins. The taro is shorter – around four feet at its maximum – and its leaves are a dark green whereas the Elephant Ear is a lighter shade of green. The Elephant Ear has longed petioles (leaf stalks).

Like Taro, the genus Xanthosoma produces an edible, starchy tuber.  In Central and South America the corm is grilled, fried, barbequed, baked whole (like yams or potatoes) or used as a puree’ in stews and soups.  Young leaves can be eaten like spinach.

But a warning is in order. Don’t merely dig one up and start gnawing away!  It must be cooked correctly prior to eating as any part consumed raw or improperly prepared can cause severe irritation to the mouth and throat

Beyond that, some warn that the leaf sap contains oxalic acid, which may cause skin irritation – though I have never experienced such.

Unlike Tare, my childhood dog, this striking plant does not care to have its ears flapping in the breeze. Often found under the humid, rain forest canopy, it prefers a somewhat dappled shade and sun combination.   If in rich, well drained soil and watered regularly, it can tolerate full sun. While some publications state the contrary, I have, on numerous occasions, seen them growing – and appearing to enjoy it – in still, standing, stream water.

Well attended, the underground tubers spread rapidly and the plant can be easily propagated by transplanting the separated shoot.  In fact, it grows so well and fast, in Florida it is considered an invasive plant.  But not in my gardens – here they’re part of the family!

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“Preferring the dappled shade and sun combination of life beneath the tropical rain forest canopy, it seems right at home under our African Oil Palm.”

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“The underside of the Elephant Ear leaves are a lighter gren with more pronounced veins.”

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“Rather erect with a tiny bit of floppiness, its sagittate (arrowhead shaped) leaves are most attractive.”