By Bethany Hayes
Elephant ears are a showstopping plant to add to your garden bed; the foliage makes everyone who sees it stop and do a double-take. It’s easy to mistake plants with large leaves like elephant ears, but they are tropical region native plants. There are different types of elephant ears available for growing in your garden.
Elephant ears originate in the United States’ tropical region; you can only grow them outside in the ground if you live in USDA zones 10 and 11. However, anyone can grow elephant ears in containers as houseplants or summer annuals.
Let’s look at all of the types and species you can grow!
When you look at all of the different types of elephant ears, you’ll see a wide range of sizes. Some can be almost 10 feet tall, but other varieties are only two feet tall. Some grow better in the shade, whereas some need to live in full sunlight.
Here are some of the popular types of elephant ears you can grow in your garden.
Here are the first elephant ear types that you might find. Colocasia is native to the swampy regions in Asia, and there are over 200 species of Colocasia. That means you can find the perfect cultivar for your garden.
Colocasia leaves can reach up to three feet in length and two feet across; that’s some big leaves! These plants display their leaves with the tip pointing downward. The leaves are heart-shaped, and some of these plants can grow up to eight feet tall.
Colocasia plants prefer to grow in full sunlight, and they need consistent moisture. All varieties of Colocasia are heat lovers, but they don’t mind a bit of protection from the hot afternoon sun.
If you’re looking for a plant that attracts attention, go for the Black Magic variety. The leaves are dusky, blue-black leaves. You can set off the leaves by placing contrasting flowers nearby that are red, orange, or yellow. Those colors make the blue-black pop.
Colocasia Black Magic plants typically measure three to five feet tall by late summer.
When you grow the Black Stem variety, you’ll notice that the plant has gorgeous, burgundy to black stems that lead to arrow-shaped, teal-blue leaves. In the right condition, this variety can reach up to seven feet tall in a few months.
If you live in a colder region, Black Stem is best grown in a warm, sheltered location in a container.
Colocasia Diamond Head produces broad, blue-black leaves that are surface and glossy. They reflect the light, creating a dramatic effect in your garden.
To achieve the best-colored leaves possible, make sure you plant Diamond Head in full sunlight and give ample moisture. The mature size is three to four feet tall, and the leaves grow up to two feet wide.
Here is a newer cultivar coming from Hawaii. It has glossy, lime-green leaves with dark red veins on the backside with dark red stems.
Hawaiian Punch reaches three feet tall at full maturity, so it’s a smaller size than other varieties. It works excellent for containers and small space gardening.
If you want a variegated elephant ear plant, you’ll love the Colocasia Mojito. This plant has variegated foliage with unique patterns of black-blue dashes and dots. None of the leaves are the same, making it quite an exciting and unique addition to your garden.
Mojito plants reach a mature size of two to three feet tall, so they can be grown in containers and small gardens. They won’t overwhelm your garden beds.
Here is a variety with dark green, matte leaves that have a purple-black shading. The veins and petioles are all bright green, so it creates quite a contrast on each leaf. If you grow Illustris in full sunlight, you can expect the color to be more intense.
Here is another Colocasia variety to add to your garden. Colocasia Tea Cup has glossy, blue-grey leaves with burgundy ribs and stems. The leaves are curved and point upwards, creating a sort of cup or saucer at the leaves’ base that will collect water. When full of water, the leaves turn downward and spill.
Caladium is the type of elephant ears you most often find in garden nurseries. These plants are perennials and hardy in USDA zones eight to 11.
The main difference to know about Caladium varieties is that this is a smaller species. Some of the species only reach two feet in height, and some have leaves that are only eight to 12 inches in length. Most of these cultivars grow better in partial sunlight.
Caladium Pink Symphony has pink and cream splotched leaves with green veins and a point at the end. These are smaller plants with shorter stems and small leaves. It typically matures at 14 inches tall and 16 inches wide, so it can be grown in containers.
Pink Symphony is a shade-loving plant that prefers loamy, well-draining soil. They work great in shady areas or as a garden accent.
Here is a Caladium cultivar with cream and green variegated leaves. It’s not a large plant, so it’s suitable for containers or small gardens. You can place Iceberg in a partially shady area for optimal growth.
Rose Glow is a hybrid Caladium cultivar with medium green leaves with a bright, pink center and white edges around the pink center. As the leaves start to mature, you’ll notice more white developing along the central veins, furthering the contrast against the pink center.
Rose Glow grows best in part shade to shady areas. It works well as a houseplant with exposure to bright light. Once mature, these plants reach up to two feet tall and 14 inches wide.
If you want a variety of vibrant leaves, Red Flash, often called Angel Wings, has large, heart-shaped, olive-green leaves with bright, red veins and pink speckles. Later, calla-like flowers appear in the summer, but it’s easy to miss them because these plants typically reach up to three feet tall and two feet wide.
Red Flash is more sun tolerant than other Caladium varieties. You can use it on borders for splashes of color or grow them in containers. They also work well as houseplants.
This variety of elephant ears produces calla lily-like blooms, and the plants typically are six feet tall. Alocasia plants have arrow-shaped foliage. Many of the leaves have black, bronze, or dark purple streaks.
One difference with Alocasia elephant ears is that the tip of the leaves is pointed out or upward. They also need more well-draining soil and a little shade for optimal growth. Look for a location that has bright, indirect sunlight and moist soil.
Let’s look at some Alocasia varieties you can grow.
Often grown as a houseplant, Amazonica is an elephant ear variety with dark green, narrow shaped leaves with wavy edges. The leaves can grow up to two feet long, featuring ribs and margins that are creamy-white.
Sporadically, the plant will produce yellow flowers that look like calla lilies. The plant can grow up to three feet tall and grow best in part shade with rich, moist soil at full maturity.
This variety reaches up to five feet tall with paddle-shaped leaves that are as pretty as they are large. Odora is one of the larger growers in the Alocasia family, and they’re one of the few that can easily handle colder temperatures in zone 8.
Growing in the right conditions can lead the plants to grow to massive sizes. Some can reach up to ten or 15 feet tall. The leaves are thick and durable, and as it gets larger, the stem becomes more of a trunk.
This variety has sturdy stems and upward-facing leaves; you’ll notice that the leaves are broad and paddle-shaped. It’s an excellent choice for container gardening or growing near your patio. You can also grow this as a houseplant in the winter months.
This is the least common type of elephant ears. The plants require temperatures consistently over 68℉, which means that many places in the United States cannot grow these plants. This species is native to tropical America.
Xanthosoma plants have arrow-shaped leaves with decorative veins, so they’re a beautiful addition if you can grow them in your region. There are dozens of species, but here are some of the most attractive options.
This variety of Xanthosoma grows bright, chartreuse-yellow, heart-shaped leaves that add distinct color to your garden. The plants look like they’re glowing at times. These plants typically reach up to four feet tall, loving hot, humid summers.
This is one of the most beautiful varieties of Xanthosoma elephant ears you can grow. Lindenii plants grow up to 20 inches tall with green leaves that have white to silver veins throughout. It’s quite a striking plant that needs to be kept warm at all times.
Sometimes called blue taro or black malanga, this type of elephant ear plants grow large, dark green leaves with purple veins and stems. It’s one of the few edible types.
Violaceum plants typically reach five to six feet tall and wide, so they work in containers or your garden beds.
Chances are you didn’t know there were so many different types of elephant ears, but there are hundreds! All of the cultivars can be broken down into one of these four types. Pick the kind that works best for your garden and region, and then you can find the cultivar or species you want to grow the most.
Learn more about the types of elephant ears: