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The origin of taro is vague.

Taro was grown as a vegetable in ancient Egypt. It was grown in India before that. A few hundred varieties were cultivated in precolonial Hawaii. Taro was likely native to southeast Asia, but has been in cultivation for so long that it is difficult to know where it originated from. In modern American gardens, it is known as elephant ears, Calocasia esculenta, and grown for its striking foliage.

The big and broad leaves are held as high as six feet on long petioles (leaf stalks), and flare out as broadly as three feet, although many varieties get half as tall and broad. Some varieties have weirdly dark foliage. Others have green leaves with colorful veins. A few are simply jade green. Any of the deciduous foliage that lingers into winter should be cut back before spring.

Since they are naturally bog plants, elephant ears likes very rich potting soil and plenty of water. Muddy clay soil that will not float away works fine for pots submerged in ponds. (Ick!) Partial shade is important. Leaves can get roasted if too exposed. To propagate, corms can be divided while dormant in winter. All parts of elephant ears are toxic until cooked.

16 thoughts on “Elephant Ears

  1. I had no idea those things were taro. Is it the roots (corms) that are eaten (cooked, mashed, etc.)? I know people who have eaten it at pig roasts in Hawaii, but I’ve never eaten it. I like those gigantic leaves though when I see them…

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      1. In Hawaii, both the leaves and the corms are eaten. Both are intensely toxic until cooked.
        The leaves are boiled or steamed to reduce the toxicity and to soften the leaves and bring out their sweet nutty flavor. The corms are also boiled (before peeling or eating), again to reduce the toxicity. Once soft, they can be used as mashed potatoes, or mixed with water to prepare poi. Poi when fresh has the reputation of tasting “like library paste”, but is often fermented before eating — called “sour poi,” this has a tangy flavor, and is used by locals as a starch, again like mashed potatoes.

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      2. Oooh, that is so interesting. I did not know about sour poi or that the leaves taste nutty. Sounds a bit like trying to make acorns edible, which also takes a lot of work. Did you live in Hawaii?

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    1. Yes, I lived in Hawaii for about 5 years in the early ’70’s. I really enjoyed the staple foods of the local peoples, and though I never tried preparing either taro leaves or the corms I always enjoyed dishes made with them.

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  2. I bought some of those – the dark leaf ‘Illustris’, which are still resolutely dusky green – for my summer containers. I’m hoping to dry them off for the winter and reuse them next spring – recycling! On the eating front, I think I’ll stick to the much cheaper potatoes and sweet potatoes. :~))

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