Saturday, February 12, 2011

Alocasia vs. Colocasia

Over the years, I've done a lot of work with Alocasia and Colocasia in the desert.  Many people ask why we wouldn't just grow cacti and succulents in our gardens.  The simple answer to that is the color green.  These plants add the color needed to punch up a garden in certain spots. The leaves make a wonderful background display or look great as a focal point.  While these two plants(and their many variety offsprings!!) look similiar, they have very different needs. For a quick answer to this post, I will say colocasia over alocasia if you are looking to pot something.  But as we all know, there is not a simple answer for anything.  Here's why I say what I say.  Even though our zone 9 desert doesn't have an abundance of running streams and rivers, homeowners DO have fountains and ponds in their yards.  Today's post examines the big question....What is Alocasia?  What is Colocasia?  How are they different?  Both these plants belong to the family 'Araceae'.  The differences are many as you'll see.
Colocasia Esculenta

 As I was putting my garden journal together from this past year, I realized that this was one of my research topics while investigating bulbs from magazines.  I spent several weeks investigating which route I should take.  This issue, if you can call it that, is really the minute differences between the two plants.  We'll also explore in this post, briefly, the concept of water gardening.  That will be a post down the road after one of our projects is completed on the property. Let's begin the fun lush topic of Alocasia vs. Colocasia.

Note the upright leaf of the alocasia as it points to the sky
What is Alocasia?  These are stunningly designed elephant ear type plants that normally point upwards to the sky. They add a lot of focal impact in the tropical garden and summer patio container. They perform best in compost rich well drained soil and are extremely frost sensitive.  These plants do need water!!!  Most are recommended for the water garden which may be a pond or fountain that you have in your backyard.  These like light but not the direct sunlight as it will scorch and burn the leaves. Shade is better for this plant than the colocasia which will tolerate much more light.  Alocasia is also the Colocasia on steroids.....the leaves are HUGE on a lot of these plants. There is Alocasia Amazonica(which I've planted in pots near my water fountain during my days of the small patio gardening), Borneo giant, Calidora, California, Sarian, Freydek, and many many others.  I tried Borneo in our courtyard and it failed.  I think it got too much shade so you can't put these in full shade here...they do need some light.  I'll talk more about the perfect full shade bulb tomorrow.  These plants add great focal energy and strength to an area that you need to pop.  Here's the truth about these plants in our subtropical climate.  While in summer, these plants thrive with more than average watering ; they will freeze and die in winter.  And when I say die, I mean die.  Colcasia will come back.  Most Alocasia will not.  If you must have these plants in your garden, put them in pots and bring them in when it gets cold.....and for most of these plants, anything that gets below 50 degrees at night will start their decline.   They are wonderful plants and if you have a fountain or pond, these would be great to put into a water type pot near or even in your water feature!! Air moisture is the key with Alocasia with semi moist soil. Check your plant tags for the specific requirents  The humidity from the pond or fountain will make this plant one happy camper. It's definitely not a xeric plant and I recommend this plant only if you have a water feature in your yard.  Putting it near these features will change its' status from high maintenance plant to a plant you need to keep an eye on:) This is not a plant for the beginning gardener.  My personal success comes from these simple rules....keep soil moist but not soggy.  Keep it warm and out of direct sun.  Provide humidity and life is good. They can be grown here in Tucson, but they tend to act like the high maintenance friend who needs constant attention. PS. I have learned to let those type of people go.  What an enabling moron I was!  Live and learn:) I should also tell you that I don't grow alocasia in my own garden.  If you have a small patio or greenhouse, I recommend this plant but for placing it outside, no.

Alocasia Amazonica.  "Wait!!", you say.  "I thought you said that alocasia point to the sky?"  If you just thought that, give yourself a pat on the back.  This is a hybrid and not a species.
What is Colocasia?  Colcasia is a fun and wonderful bulb/tuber to grow in pots.  See previous post for more information.  Here is where the difference comes in between these two plants.  They like water, but too much water will kill them and their leaves will start turning yellow. However some varieties can also be submerged into full water. Again, just make sure you check your labels.   They love nutrient rich soil. They love some filtered bright light.  They should be in pots.  They can also grow to be large plants, but they will stay a certain size if you don't move them around a lot.  The bigger the tuber; the bigger the plant.  The leaves look like simple large elephant ears. If they start to burn or crisp on the edges, move the potted plant to a less sunnier spot.  If leaf totally droops, it needs water.  If leaf is yellow, it needs some fertilizing.  Here's the minute difference.  Alocasia points upwards and Colocasia generally points downwards.  These are better plants to have in the garden when compared to Alocasia.  However, everyone has their own microclimate and some things will thrive.  It all depends on your landscape/garden setup.  For beginning gardeners, I say start with Colocasia and once you've got a feel with these plants, try the Alocasia.....especially the Alocasia Amazonica. You'll have better success with this plant. This is one of the popular varieties at our gardening centers. While shopping now for bulbs etc through catalogues or online, be aware that pictures can make you spend more money.....especially for our snowy friends back East:) I do occassionally experiment with bulbs from  a company called Brent and Becky's Bulbs.  They are great and have excellent reviews online.  I've called them several times and I've always gotten a friendly voice. If you experiment with plants, like I do in the desert, you can call 1-877-661-2852 to order a catalogue.  Finally I'll leave you with another image from a popular online bulb/tropical plant source.  I laughed so hard seeing this.  Leave it the creative minds to put sex and a plant together.   I present you their version of the California Alocasia.  However, this Alocasia(or part of it) seems to break its' rules about pointing upwards toward the sky..... plus I'm not so sure how they'd send this package nor do I think I'd want it:)  Until next time in the garden, stay warm and dream about spring. And for everyone else around the world, stay cool:)  Chris
                                                                Alocasia "California"


  1. hi you have a long good discussion there. We have lots of Alocasia species here in the tropics and they are not eaten, Colocasia tubers are used as vegetables. Alocasia sap can be very bad for your skin so beware of cut petioles and leaves. BTW, it is nice if the scientific names are correctly written, Genus starts with capital letter, and species with small letter. Thank you so much. I am sure it is just a typo error or slight neglect on your part.

  2. Thanks Andrea.....I'm terrible with those little rules which are actually big rules in the community. I have a couple plant doctor friends who lecture me on that:) The Alocasia sap does cause irritation and it's best to wash hands after handling these plants if they touch the skin. It's a beautiful plant but requires too much work in the desert.


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