The year of the ear



That’s what Tony Avent says anyway, and I’m going along for the ride. It must be the year of elephant ear because I don’t think I’ve ever seen half so many exotic varieties of colocasia on offer. There are yellow striations, white splashes, black veins, red stems, and plants that will grow tall enough to offer shade and/or frighten your neighbors. Last year Plant Delights offered a charming variety they’re calling “coffee cups” and I see elsewhere referred to as “tea cups.” In any case, the edges of these tilt upward, so they hold water and spill it out when full.

Even gardeners in Hawaii, where I’m thinking it must grow wild, testify on Dave’s Garden about how they use it in their front borders. As for me, colocasia is a lifesaver. Much as I would like to have a more sustainable garden and avoid plants like these, which do require plenty of water, I have too much shade to be completely happy with the all-native or low-maintenance choices. I love the graceful way the large leaves nod on their tall stems, never drooping, certainly never needing staking, no matter how big they are. And to solve the water problem: simply keep them in a pond.

Two years ago the esculenta “Illustris,” (black with green veins) was enough to wow visitors during Garden Walk, but now I think it might be old hat and am branching out to such esculenta variants as the white-centered “Nancy’s Revenge,” or the “Yellow Splash.”

And I’ve finally succumbed to this plant, which has flabbergasted me ever since I first saw it in the pages of the PD catalog:


If it got even half this big, I’d be thrilled. (It’s gigantea Thailand Giant Strain BTW. So big they had to say giant twice.)

Those aren’t even the newest of the introductions. Breeders such as John Cho and Alan Galloway are bringing out ruffled and heavily textured ears, as well as ears with chocolate, black, and deep red stems. In other words, there is a galaxy of utterly spectacular cultivars out there. What may once have been a nice foliage accent has, for me, become obsession-worthy.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I’m with you!! I too have shade, and my collection of these guys has expanded exponentially over 3 years! I keep the upright elephant ears (is it C. esculenta? Not sure of spelling) in a no-hole pot in poor light in my den throughout the winter – where the giant green leaves keep coming and cheer my days.

  2. I’ve gone nuts over all the small ground cover types that PDN offers. My only complaint is that they are slow to emerge so you only get a few months of their smiling faces before first frost.

    I believe the photo of the Thai strain giant shows Alan Galloway “Mr. Aroid” on the right.

  3. Elizabeth, I’ve avoided elephant ears, assuming that in my climate, they’d just sulk until August and then by cut off by a frost in September. But you live in Buffalo!!! Not exactly the most tropical-friendly city on earth. Do you start them in the house?

  4. Michele, you can start them in the house, but if you buy them as plants from Brent & Becky’s or Plant Delights, they grow really fast, and can go right outside. And the common green ones from Home Depot I’ve started from tubers got totally huge. By mid-June they looked great! Those are foolproof.

    You do so well with dahlias, I would think these would work equally well for you.

  5. Gigantea Thailand Giant Strain – love that plant name! Gives me the same delight as Tetrapanax papyrifera ‘Steroidal Giant’. Gotta love it when they put a plant’s humongousness (yes, I know that’s not a word, but I don’t care) front and center.

  6. Where can I buy colocasia gigantea thai giant strain.I have the regular gigantea but it’s not that gigantic

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