I had the full intention of continuing the process of breaking down my outdoor container gardens yesterday, but a nice lunch and movie sounded better on a Sunday afternoon. Since there was a weather prediction of some light snow or sleet for Monday, I put my pots of elephant ears in a wagon and rolled them into my garage where they would be protected, at least, until I could dig up the bulbs below the soil later. By this time, the plants had flopped into a messy mush from cold temperatures prior. I hadn’t had the time to get to them, but it is not too late to get the bulbs out of the soil and stored for replanting next year. (BTW, I also moved my perennials in pots into the garage too to deal with later; more on that in another blog.)
I love elephant ears of all kinds for the big showy leaves that bounce in the wind. This year, some that I planted in the ground instead of in container gardens, didn’t do so well because we had such a droughty season. Leaves turned yellow and the plant did not thrive, but those in containers which received my constant attention for watering did wonderfully.
I also saw many elephant ear plants during my recent trip to Hawai`i (Big Island, see my e:Pub on my website). In fact, one day on the trip when my husband and I took a road on the east side that was one-laned through fields of very tall sugar cane grasses and invasive Eucalyptus trees, we came across a very large elephant ear in a dip by the roadside where some water was feeding it well.
I had used up my memory card on my digital camera, so I captured a photo of it on a disposable type camera. This is the biggest elephant ear I’ve seen to date. Too bad the picture is a little grainy. Wished I’d taken more.
We also saw fields of taro (Colocasia esculenta) at the base of Waipi`o Valley on the island. Polynesian settlers had brought these types of elephant ears to Hawai`i as a food source. However, most of it is toxic until cooked appropriately, and since I’ve never attempted to eat my elephant ear plants or bulbs, I won’t give information on the process! The root-like stem, called the corm, is the starch-filled part, and the leaves, stems and flowers are also edible when cooked. It was really neat to see big fields of it after we took a 900 foot decent road (which gave me a stomach ache) only accessible by four-wheel drive and a brave driver like my husband! At the base when reaching level ground, we continued down a bumpy dirt road and crossed low streams which were waterways from the taro fields. A big field of taro with workers tending to the plants was beyond one of the streams.
My resource book indicates there are at least three hundred varieties of Hawaiian taro recorded. Calcium oxalate crystals in the plant is the potential poisonous entity. Cooking methods reduce its concentration. But don’t go try eating it without further research on your own part! I know I wouldn’t. Hawaiians, however, know how to cook it to avoid getting sick. If undercooked, they risk getting pain in the mouth from the calcium oxalate crystals. The valley where we saw the fields of taro has abundant water ways from rain fall into the valley, so it is perfect for growing taro (also know as kalo on the island). They make “Poi” from it by pounding the root (and again, cooking it right!)
I grow the plant here in summer because its large bulb provides a spectacular show in the garden and containers. And the bonus is you can store it easily every fall and often get little baby bulbs for more plants. Since I didn’t get to my plants yet, I started with removing the dead mucky foliage first. The next step is to cut off the stalk of the plant about 3-4″ above the soil line. I sometimes use a large serrated kitchen knife to slice thru it, or if it is super thick (like with some of my banana plants), I even use a hand-saw! Then you have the choice to place the pot into your unheated basement where it will go into a tricked dormant state for the winter. Keep it in a dark place and watch it for insects. They find a way to a plant once moved in.
But for mine moved into the garage yesterday, I think I’ll take a warmer day later this week to dig out the bulb out of the soil and store it in peat, just as I did with my canna plants on Saturday. (See yesterday’s blog). The elephant ear bulbs are large and round, and sometimes you will find a baby bulb attached to it. But should you take the basement option with the bulb in the soil in the container, you may find on a warmer day or in the very early spring as your basement warms up, an ear of the plant may begin to arise from the bulb. If this happens that is okay until the temps warm enough to move the entire container back outside. Just clip off the early risers and more healthy leaves will be sure to arrive! But until then, we’ll have to learn to enjoy the coming fall and winter as we rest and so do our elephant ear plants! I cannot believe sleet is here already. So glad I had moved about 20 other containers into my shed on Saturday; at least a majority of it got done!