Sunday, September 30, 2012

Flirting with aroids

Over the years I have had various love affairs with big lush leafy plants!  I had a long term relationship with cannas - in fact quite a harem with over 500 names until the dreaded virus came and it all ended in tears. Tetrapanax is an old flame but always raises my blood pressure. I've had a few flirtations with bananas and like to dally with Ricinus, Strobilanthes, Coleus and other colourful annuals. 

Zantedeschia 'Kiwi Blush'

But this year my wandering affections have been taken by the  aroids. The family Araceae is a large family and includes all sorts of curious plants from familiar houseplants like Dieffenbachia, through to Zantedeschia (arum lilies) and monsters such as the giant flowered Amorphophallus. But my current infatuations come in three genera; Alocasia, Colocasia and Xanthosoma, all with similar lush foliage. The common name of elephant's ear that is applied to them all adds to the confusion. All are tropical and need a greenhouse to grow well in the UK, although some intrepid exotic gardeners have had amazing success particularly with Colocasias outdoors in sheltered locations. All grow from fleshy rootstocks,  need starting in a warm greenhouse and overwintering in frost-free conditions.

I've dabbled with a few Colocasias in the past and grew an impressive 'Jack's Giant' two summers ago.  This year I seem to have seen them and their relatives everywhere from chilly Norfolk in the UK to the sunshine of New York. Inevitably Will Giles had a some in his exotic garden including some great Xanthosomas in his new polythene tunnel. Not surprisingly there was a good selection at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a few in the Conservatory Gardens in Central Park. What did surprise me was their usage in planters in public areas. I wonder if this would work in the UK? I somehow doubt we would have enough sunshine and warmth to encourage them to really thrive! Anyway here's a few pictures to show you what has grabbed my attention. Naming may be a bit hit and miss as some inevitably weren't labelled. If you have a better guess - let me know or leave a comment! First some Alocasias - probably the most difficult to grow.

Alocasia macrorrhiza 'Calidora' - probably the most often seen and here photographed at the Eden Project UK

'Calidora' again but with other exotics in Times Square New York - (a reader comments that this is 'Portadora') What's the difference?

Alocasia sanderiana - often available as a houseplant
Alocasia cuprea 'Dragon Scale' - scary looking cultivar at the Tatton Park Flower Show

Now Colocasias - lots of them and some great foliage colours. Google them and you'll find even more  curious cultivars.

Colocasia esculenta - (corrected to Xanthosoma sagitaefolia)

Colocasia antiquorum (syn esculenta) 'Illustris' in Brooklyn Botanics
Seen in Central Park New York - possibly the cultivar 'Black Coral'

'Black Magic' in the arboretum flower garden in Nottingham last year - we like our exotics!

'Jack's Giant' - my own garden a couple of years ago - largest leaf was almost 90cm (3ft) long

Possibly 'Lemonade' - seen in Central Park

Cultivar called 'Pink China' maybe? Brooklyn Botanics.

Love this one - possibly 'Rhubarb' - vigorous grower and Central Park again.

Finally some Xanthosomas and I have to admit I really hadn't much noticed them until this year. I'm also on shaky ground as I'm not quite sure what distinguishes these from Colocasia.

Xanthosoma violaceum in Will Giles' tunnel
Planters in New York - could this be Xanthosoma 'Lime Zinger'
'Lime Zinger' again but just love this picture.
 Hope you enjoy these too but comments and corrections on all this welcomed! Let us know if you grow them.


  1. I think these are possibly my most favourite type of plant, so far I have managed to over winter a couple of types successfully so here is hoping I can continue lol! I am very envious of the variety of colours that can be grown abroad.

  2. Stunning selection of eye candy Aroids there Ian! They are a must in an exotic style garden, even if just used as summer accent plants strategically placed within the garden. Takes awhile to get the knack of overwintering most of them, especially Colocasias and Alocasias but once you do, they can provide year in year out interest in the garden. Great post!

  3. Some gorgeous forms there. To me the one you have labelled as Colocasia esculenta isn't. Its more likely to be a Xanthosoma