Alocasia Zebrina or Elephant Ears is a tropical plant originally from Southeast Asia but has gained worldwide popularity as an indoor cultivar. It can become invasive when it is cultivated outdoors.
While its huge green leaves are the most dominant feature, it’s mainly appreciated for its unique zebra-patterned ornamental stems and not for the flowers or leaves. This plant thrives in humid jungles in its natural environment and spreads due to its rhizome-like tuberous roots.
It produces unremarkable flowers when it grows outdoors, although this rarely takes place when growing indoors. The flowers grow on top of long stalks within a green hooded spathe enclosing a white spadix consisting of tiny flowers. The flowers generally last for about a month, eventually becoming brown and dropping off.
Cultivators have divided opinions about the flowers – while some don’t mind if the plant produces flowers, others state that the flowers take away lots of effort and energy from the plant and cut them away as soon as buds appear. Another case for removing the flowers is that some of the leaves will become brown or look unhealthy, affecting the overall appearance of the plant.
Caring for this plant is rather difficult in regards to light as it prefers very bright indirect sunlight. The stalks tend to grow leggy and long if it doesn’t get enough light as this plant tends to lean towards the light. The pot should be rotated each time you water it to prevent lopsided growth. Excessive exposure to the direct sun could cause leaves to burn and become brown.
It prefers slightly dry soil and that’s why it’s important to grow it in a well-draining container with enough draining holes and well-draining soil as this will help to prevent over-watering. Ideally, it should be watered once a week, however, when the plant is severely underwatered, the leaf edges will turn brown.
Note: growth becomes dormant when the temperature drops below 65°F. You will have to water it less, so care must be taken not to over-water, keeping the soil just slightly moist.
It grows best in humid environments with 60% humidity. You can keep a humidity tray nearby to provide extra humidity for the plant. This plant will also benefit from frequent leaf misting.
It prefers a temperature range between 65-77°F. Avoid sudden temperature variations as well as hot and cold drafts from heaters or air conditioning.
This plant is not tolerant to temperatures below 65°F as it will become dormant.
It needs exceptionally well-draining soil. An equal mix of compost, perlite, and peat works very well.
This plant prefers to be housed in a pot just a bit larger than its roots with plenty of drainage holes to avoid over-watering issues. However, try not to report this plant often as its roots are delicate and very easy to damage. Repotting is only necessary if the plant becomes root-bound.
You can propagate the plant when you report it to prevent stress to the plant.
As mentioned, the ideal time for propagating this plant is when you have to report it.
First remove the plant from the container, shaking it and removing excess soil. If the soil is very compacted, soak it in water for a little while to help the soil become soft.
You will see several growth clumps when the roots are exposed along with a few offsets (baby plants) these will all be connected to the tuberous root, they can be gently separated by hand or sterile scissors or a knife.
These separated clumps can be rooted in either water or soil by simply planting them in prepared pots with enough drainage and well-draining soil or you can wash away the soil and put the separated plants in containers filled with water.
This plant grows very rapidly from April-October and should be fertilized once in two weeks during that period. It shouldn’t be fertilized in winter or you could reduce the frequency of feeding it to once every two months.
This plant requires very minimal pruning, removing unhealthy leaves or wilted leaves. Beyond that, it doesn’t need much more care.
It can occasionally be susceptible to pests like aphids, spider mites, mealybugs, and scale. Inspect under the leaves for pest infestation and use neem oil or wash the leaves with insecticidal soap to eliminate pests.
Yellow or spots on leaves usually indicate that your plant has been over-watered. Ensure the topsoil has dried before you water it again, particularly in winter when the plant becomes dormant and growth slows down.
If the leaf edges of the plant become brown, it usually suggests that the plant is under-watered or the leaves have become burnt from direct sunlight. Inspect the soil for moisture and move it if needed to a room with brighter light.
The leaves will occasionally begin drooping and this could be due to several different reasons – check whether the plant is being over-watered or under-watered and if it has been fed properly. Remember that this is a fast-growing plant and needs regular feeding. The soil must be checked and regularly flushed to prevent the build-up of fertilizer. Other reasons for drooping leaves could be either that the plant isn’t getting enough light or it has become severely root-bound.
As mentioned, this plant needs to be rotated when you water it to ensure the whole plant gets an even distribution of light. Otherwise, growth will be uneven with the stems bending and drooping.
Another reason for drooping stems could be root rot caused by a set of issues like over-watering or poor drainage for soggy soil. When the soil becomes waterlogged, oxygen is prevented from reaching the roots. This can expose the plant to fungal infection, which can be deadly for the plant. Monitor your soil and watering schedule carefully.
Drooping leaves can also happen when the plant becomes dormant in winter but could also happen under low lighting conditions. If you know the plant is healthy, then expect to see drooping leaves when it goes into dormancy.
Consider all these issues when you troubleshoot droopy leaves on your plant.
Sometimes the leaves might all die but this doesn’t mean that the plant has died. It’s not a good sign if this happens, but all is not lost as new shoots will grow back due to the reserve energy stored in its thick tubers. Clean and repot the tubers in fresh soil, keep the pot in bright shade, and water as usual.