I love the tropical feel of big leaved plants around my pool. This year I planted four different types of elephant ears in addition to nine large banana plants. Elephant ears make a statement in the garden with their larger than life leaves. In my garden, they are at one end of my pool in front of a picket fence, which is the direct line of sight from our main sitting area.
There are three or more types of plants available under the common name of elephant ear. Most commonly found are the colocasia, alocasia, and xanthosoma.
Colocasia, also called tara, has large, heart-shaped leaves that range from six inches to eight feet long. The petiole (leaf stem) of this plant is attached under the leaf, below the leave's notch; whereas the petiole of the other two types (alocasia and xanthosoma) is located at the leaf notch.
Alocasia grows 8-10 feet tall with 3 feet long leaves. This plant comes in many sizes, shapes, and leaf colors. The ones I see most often are glossy dark green with prominent white veins.
Xanthosoma is said to have leaves so large that a small child can hide behind them. They too come in many different leaf colors. They will grow 6-8 feet tall.
My garden this summer includes a 'Mojito' colocasia. 'Mojito' has a green leaf with splotches of purple, black and chartreuse. Its stems are multicolored too. The leaves should grow to 2 feet long with the entire plant reaching 4 feet tall.
I also have a small colocasia elephant ear called Bikini-tini. It has deep green leaves with dark purple stems. It is said to grow 5-6 feet tall, but I've had this in my garden for two years and it never grows over 2 feet tall. This year I plan to water it more and give it weekly nitrogen fertilizer. Hopefully it will respond with larger leaves on a taller plant.
All elephant ears prefer full sun and typically like a lot of water. They also need a lot of food to grow, so weekly applications of high nitrogen liquid fertilizer is recommended. In the fall, you can dig the roots up after a light frost has killed back the top of the plant. Store the roots in a cool, dark area all winter. In the spring, start them early inside to give them a jump start on summer growth. Some elephant ears can also be grown as houseplants during the winter.
Learn more about these and other tropic plants on the University of Illinois Extension Tropical Punch! website at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/tropicalpunch/.
View my video on Giant Elephant Ears at http://go.illinois.edu/ferreevideos