JoAnne Skelly: The Alocasia gift plant

Leaves on an Alocasia plant look like elongated elephant ears.

Leaves on an Alocasia plant look like elongated elephant ears.

I received an unusual foliage plant for Christmas. The leaves look like elongated elephant ears about 12 inches long. They are glossy dark green with silvery-white veins and reddish-green undersides. They are narrow and wavy. After extensive searching online, I found out it is Alocasia sanderiana, commonly called Sander’s Alocasia, elephant ear or Kris (after some kind of foreign dagger). This plant originates in the Philippines. It is a beautiful and unique looking specimen.

At first, I thought it was a relative to begonias, but it is actually related to anthuriums, calla lilies, dieffenbachias, caladiums, taros and philodendrons. As I read up on it, I found out it is not easy to grow.

One site states, “Alocasia can be quite difficult to keep alive as it will not accept substandard care or incorrect conditions for very long. Consequently, the plant inevitably dies in a spectacular failure and the owner doesn’t try to grow it again or recommend it to anyone” ( It needs warmth and high humidity when it is actively growing, rather hard to do in Nevada. The sources I read suggest putting a tray of pebbles with water underneath it to meet its humidity needs. It requires a porous soil and a tight fitting pot. It thrives in bright, but indirect light; otherwise, it sunburns. It won’t tolerate low light either. It can go through a dormant period in the fall when its leaves fade and die, which often fools people into thinking it is really dead. recommends using “tepid rain water” to water the plant (that’s not going to happen!) and feeding it weakly once a month.

Being a needy plant isn’t the only thing that concerns me. The Alocasia is toxic to children and pets. I don’t have children, so that’s not a worry. I have set the plant up on a high plant stand that wobbles a bit in hopes that the wobble will deter the cat from jumping up to explore the Alocasia.

I guess I will see if it goes dormant and if I can revive it in the spring. This would mean barely watering while it is dormant and slowly increasing the moisture and humidity as new shoots appear, if they appear. While I have been reducing my houseplant population for years, trying to whittle it down to those that withstand neglect, when my dear friend gave me this, I couldn’t resist it. It is a stunning plant.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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