IFELL IN LOVE AGAIN, AND I WANT IT TO LAST. The latest object of my affection: a variegated elephant ears called Colocasia esculenta ‘Mojito’ that I adopted this spring at a local garden center, despite the fact that he was no cheap date. I fear the coming winter may be the end of us, though—he’s Zone 7B, and I’m a mere 5B. How can we keep our love—and this spectacular plant—alive? I sought counsel from the most experienced person I could think of, in the hopes of doing just that.
Colocasia ‘Mojito’ (Zone 7b-10), like all its cousins that we call elephant ears or taro, is a heat-loving plant that’s also hungry and thirsty. I grew it in a bright spot in a potting soil with lots of compost, and stood a big, deep saucer underneath—something I wouldn’t do with most other plants outdoors for fear of rotting them off. I don’t use chemical fertilizers, but I mixed in some all-natural organic formulation at planting time and occasionally added fish and seaweed emulsion to the water I gave it.
In food production, prevalent in Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean, it’s the starchy tubers that are the thing—bigger is better. In ornamental horticulture, the above-ground portion is where it’s at, and here’s where the tricky part comes in about overwintering some of the most spectacular new taros—including ‘Mojito,’ and the better known ‘Black Magic.’ They don’t produce big tubers that can be lifted, like you might a canna or some of the elephant ears, and stashed dry in the cellar.
I appealed to Tony Avent of Plant Delight Nursery, who has an unrivaled selection of Aroids (including Colocasia and their close cousins Alocasia and more) to tell me how to work around this no-big-tuber overwintering obstacle.
“This entire group of new elephant ears tend in that direction,” he said, “hence they will never be sold as dormant tubers by most bulb firms. These are best if kept potted through the winter under one of two regimes…actively growing at over 60 degrees F and in good light, or semi-dormant at 45-50 degrees and kept fairly dry and as such, light is not as critical.”
Tony agreed that ‘Mojito’ is one handsome plant—“one of my favorites,” he said—and tipped me off to another that may be next year’s mad, indulgent fling:
“Have you tried C. ‘Black Coral’ yet? Simply unreal.”
- My overall overwintering regimen for tender things here
- Elephant Ears: a great article from Plant Delights’ website
- Biodiversity International says that worldwide production in 2010 ranked taro as 14th among global food crops, with more than 12 million metric tons produced, and that it has been cultivated as a food source for more than 2,000 years.
- Purdue published a lesson plan on taro as a food and fodder crop on its website, with some interesting facts