GGW Plant Pick of The Month- Colocasia

– Posted in: Garden Plants

As I have addressed in previous posts, much of the attention my corporate design work (e.g. Gardens at the Bank of Springfield) receives can be attributed to my use of tropicals in the mixed border. It is unexpected to see lush tropical foliage flourishing in central Illinois. This season I have installed a truly subtropical garden complete with several species of palm, banana, croton, ginger, canna, fern and the like.

In seasons past I have had great success growing elephant ear (Colocasia). Not surprisingly, they are an important part of this year’s display. Named for the leaves, which are shaped like a large ear or shield, June’s GGW Plant Pick of The Month instantly adds an exotic touch to any container or garden.

Colocasia esculenta 'Elena' (Image courtesy of Agristarts, Inc.)

Colocasia esculenta 'Elena'- 4-6' sun tolerant, chartreuse yellow leaves with purple veination, try pairing with Tradescantia pallida (Image courtesy of Agristarts, Inc.)

Colocasia is a genus of six to eight species of flowering plants native to tropical Polynesia and southeastern Asia. There are several popular ornamental cultivars of Colocasia esculenta, however it is important to note that C. esculenta and other members of the genus are primarily cultivated for their edible tubers, a staple food for over 100 million people worldwide.

Colocasia esculenta 'Black Beauty' (Image courtesy of Agristarts, Inc.)

Colocasia esculenta 'Black Beauty'- a mutation of the cultivar 'Illustris' with 3-4' nearly black leaves, try pairing with Solenostemon 'Sedona' or Helichrysum petiolare (Image courtesy of Agristarts, Inc.)

Colocasia is best grown in fertile, humusy, organically rich, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. Plants will do well with roots submerged in a pond or water garden. Elephant ear’s produce a great deal of growth in one season and appreciate regular fertilization. Tubers may be left in the ground year round in USDA zones 8-10. In zone 5, I treat them as an annual and have not tried to overwinter the tubers. Have you had success overwintering Colocasia?

Colocasia esculenta 'Pink China'- 4-6' cultivar with excellent cold tolerance, hardy to zone 6 (Image courtesy of Agristarts, Inc.)

Colocasia esculenta 'Pink China'- 4-6' cultivar with excellent cold tolerance, hardy to USDA zone 6 (Image courtesy of Agristarts, Inc.)

Colocasia looks great in mass or as a specimen/centerpiece. Try planting elephant ears with AlocasiaCaladium or Xanthosoma as they have similar leaf shapes. Colocasias work well with other exotic foliage plants such as- palms, Manihot, Musa, croton, ginger, canna, Cyperus papyrus, Ricinus, and Solenostemon to name a few. Do you have any favorite planting combination including Colocasia?

Plant Delights Nursery, Inc. has a great selection of many hard-to-find elephant ear selections. Do you know of any other good sources? Please post a comment.

If this is your first time visiting GGW Plant Pick of The Month and you’d like to participate, simply post your comments below and a link to your own site where you’ve posted photos of elephant ear cultivars and comments about your experiences working with the plant, successful planting combinations, etc.

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff has practiced garden design since 1995. He trained as a Botanist at Eastern Illinois University. Woodruff attributes his unique design aesthetic, naturalism with a twist, to early college exposures to a diverse range of plants and environments (collecting trips in local prairies, field excursions to bogs in Canada and treks through forests of the Northeast). He also maintained the campus greenhouse, where he fell in love with tropicals. In recent years, influences on his designs include travels abroad to Europe, Asia and the Yucatan peninsula as well as observation of the work of great plantsmen such as Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik. Woodruff’s designs often combine grasses, prairie natives and perennials with lush tropical foliage and seasonal blooms. This harmonious blending of plant material that is not conventionally grouped together is the ‘twist’ that makes his style unique.
Adam Woodruff

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our friend Ben June 9, 2009, 7:44 am

Hey, Adam, is ‘Pink China’ hardy through Zone 6 or just “to” Zone 6? (As a Zone 6 gardener, if it really would overwinter here it will go on my must-get list.) Thanks!

Agristarts website says ‘Pink China’ is hardy “to” Zone 6.


Cameron(Defining Your Home Garden) June 9, 2009, 8:38 am

I have grown one variety, colocasia esculenta ‘Fontanesii’ for a few years in my fragrance garden. I’ve been very happy with it, but there was some loss of the mother plants this year after having a cold winter where the temps dipped below 10 degrees at night. The younger shoots have emerged just fine. I leave mine in the ground here in zone 7b, and it was marginal this past year.


Cameron. Thanks for sharing your experience and the great photo. I love the dark stems and shiny leaves. I used ‘Fontanesii’ in a pair of containers this season. Anxious to see how they perform.


Helen at Toronto Gardens June 9, 2009, 9:40 am

Adam, I was very surprised to read in the July/Aug Fine Gardening just yesterday that Colocasia is classed as an invasive in some areas. Here’s the link they cite:

Not sure if this link will work, but here’s the result of a search:

Helen. Thanks for your informative comment. I am aware some varieties of Colocasia can be invasive in certain areas. Since they are not hardy in USDA Zone 5 I have not had a problem. I’d encourage researching cultivars before planting if you live in warmer locations.


Loree / danger garden June 9, 2009, 3:27 pm

I was really worried that my Elephant Ear wouldn’t come back this year. We had an uncharacteristically cold and snowy winter in Portland, OR, and I leave them in the ground. But they are! I’ve done 2 posts about them, first this one, when I was worried:

And then when I discovered life:

They are coming on strong now, I have at least 7 coming up. These are fabulous plants that I just love for their drama. Everyone should plant them!

Loree. Thanks for sharing your experience and photos!


jodi (bloomingwriter) June 9, 2009, 8:42 pm

Colocasia don’t want to do well for me,…they don’t love the wind, or the fog, or the lack of heat. I saw them grown well in Kansas City, Mo, at Powell Gardens and they were fantastic.

Hi Jodi. Sorry you haven’t had success with Colocasia. I’ve noticed in my garden they start growing rapidly in late June. So heat is essential.


Michelle D. June 9, 2009, 8:53 pm

I garden in Northern California, zone 9.
If I leave my Colocasias and Alocasias in the ground they come back but are much smaller .
Eventually , after a couple of winters in the ground they vanish completely.
I’m going to start digging them up and store them in the greenhouse .

Some of my favorite pairings are with other big bold foliage plants like Doryanthus palmerii, giant bird of paradise, Heliconias, Cussonia, Bananas and many of the sub tropical bamboos.

I came across a Colocasia look alike last week while plant hunting. Check out the plant called Remusatia vivipara (Monterey Bay Nursery ) :

A few photo links to some planting combinations:
with cannas, equisetum, a variegated brugmansia and some succulents

with some palms,cannas, carex p. sparkler, agave attenuatta and aeoniums

with a Balinese garden light, carex morrowii , aeoniums

Michelle. Great photos and planting combinations! Thanks for your contribution.


healingmagichands June 10, 2009, 8:03 pm

I have friends (we live in zone 5)who leave their colocasia in the ground all winter, but they cover the site with straw about 12 inches thick. They have the biggest leaves I have ever seen in this zone.

I have other friends who plant them out after the soil warms up and dig them in the fall, store them in their root cellar over the winter, they have great success too.

I need to get some of this plant, even though I may have to dig i tup in the fall..

Thanks for sharing! I may try covering ‘Pink China’ this winter . . . which is said to be one of the most cold hardy Colocasias.


Pam Kersting June 13, 2009, 8:20 am

I couldn’t agree with you more! Colocasia along with Alocasia are two of my favorite plants for the shade garden! I’m so fortunate to live in Zone 8 (right down the road from Plant Delights) where we can enjoy these hardy beautiful plants each summer! Thanks for posting this. If you or others are into tropicals, you might enjoy purchasing and reading “Hot Plants for Cool Climates: Gardening with Tropical Plants in Temperate Zones” by Susan Roth and Dennis Schroader (Houghton Mifflin, 2000). It also has spectacular color photographs!

Pam. Thanks so much for your comments and recommendation. Lucky you living down the road from PD. I’m ordering “Hot Plants for Cool Climates” this evening.


ryan July 12, 2009, 4:40 pm

I have a post up about a planting with Colocasia “Black Magic” in it.

The colocasia has done really well for us, steadily increasing in size, and this past winter it didn’t even go dormant. We have it in a bathtub sunk in the ground, so we only water it once a week. I like how it combines with our California native stream orchid and scarlet monkey flower, and how the leaves look against the backdrop of bamboo. Only wish is that we had a better view of the black stems, which are my favorite feature of the plant.

Ryan. Thanks for sharing your experience and photos!


Brian Williams October 31, 2009, 11:18 am

Great article!

I have grown this plant longer than anyone I put it into cultivation and named it Colocasia Pink China due to the fact at the time the only collecting data I had was that it was from a remote mountain in China collected by a friend of mine. The stems were pink and it had a pink dot in the center of the leaf so my tags all read Pink China. The plant grew very fast. The first year I dug it up. It had got so large I left quite a few extras in the ground. The following season they had returned very easily. So sense then I have not dug them up in the last 16 years, here in Kentucky zone 6. I do however recommend the plant be mature to well established. Mulching and protection always helps specially on smaller plants.

I grow now more than over 100 varieties of Colocasia and so far this one has shown the best cold tolerance I have seen. I have friends growing it in zone5 who has over wintered it now for 9 years and a few people testing it out in zone4. I highly suggest mulching in these colder climates and the situation can also be key. Warm sunny areas with well drained soil seem to help for colder areas.


Brian Williams

Hi Brian. Thanks for your comments and your contribution!


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