Alocasia x amazonica, or Elephant’s Ears, makes a bold statement in a houseplant collection. It grows rubbery-looking, blackish green pointed leaves with white veination, creating an unusual, tropical look. I love Alocasias because, ironically, they’re so artificial looking. Their appearance goes against the idea that leaves are soft and papery. Sometimes even spooky. I think that’s so neat.
Some books rate Alocasias as difficult to grow but I disagree. If you’re willing to tolerate a few brown tips or here and there, you’ll probably be successful. The trick for me is not to overthink it but simply take care of the following three issues.
Alocasias like bright, indirect light. They’re understory plants of the rain forest in warm misty places like South Asia, Indonesia, and parts of Australia. So I keep mine in a north-facing window and it does well. They tend to get scorched if set in direct sun.
If you’re the type who overwaters house plants, then this is the plant for you. Alocasias like continuously damp soil. Some sites say it likes to dry out between waterings, but when I’ve let that happen, the tips brown. So what I do is use a half-portion of orchid bark mix and half regular potting soil. This helps the soil drain freely.
Moist Warm Air
Since Alocasias are native to the tropics, they don’t like drafty windows. Keep the room between about 65-80 degrees and the plant will be happy. And because they thrive in the tropics, they like moist air. So if you live in a northern state where the heaters are often on in winter, try running a diffuser or humidifier near the plant to keep it moist. Otherwise, the tips may brown.
Overall, this lovely plant offers some unusual interest and great architecture. Because it’s tall, arrange it with lower bushier plants that like indirect light like Peace Lily, African Violet, or almost any fern. And note, if you have curious dogs, cats, or kids, Alocasia is poisonous so keep it high enough and out of reach. And if some older leaves die back, just snip them off. The plant will continually renew itself.
The best thing to do is to set this plant in a place where you’ll often notice it and enjoy!
If you’ve followed this blog at all, you probably know that I’m charmed by African Violets (Saintpaulia). I mean, I did write a whole novel about a magical one! That’s because I adore everything about these little guys. I love their fuzzy leaves. I love how they grow in almost perfect, rounded whorls, and I love their cheery upright flowers. The colors vary from purple to magenta to pink to yellow, white, and so on. And the flower forms range from single to double to fringed to striped and more. But did you know there’s an even more unusual African Violet? It’s the Variegated African Violet.
The Variegated African Violet
Variegated African Violets have been around since the late 1950s. Their leaves are usually edged or speckled or streaked with white but this varies. Some have white interiors, some have yellow new growth, etc. They bloom most commonly in purple and pink and occasionally you’ll find a double-flowered variety, which is really special. Like regular African Violets, they’re easy enough to keep alive though a Variegated African Violet is a bit trickier.
Caring for a Variegated African Violet
My Variegated African Violet, whose cultivar name I’m still not sure of, boasts serrated leaves and lots of vivid white on the margins. When those leaves emerge, they sport a dusty pink color. My heart soars whenever I see this small but pretty feature.
I grow my African Violet in a south-facing window with partial direct sunlight. Traditionally, they like bright indirect light. They also like a warm room and extra humidity though I’ve always grown mine just fine without added pebbles in water. (Note, I do sometimes use a humidifier in winter.) But there are a few tricks to keeping a Variegated African Violet happy. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- They don’t like a lot of harsh sun. Because their leaves have that white color, they don’t have the extra chlorophyll to take in sunlight. So don’t let it get scorched in a sunny window. Grow it in a north- or east-facing window if you can.
- They dry out more quickly than regular African Violets. But instead of watering them more frequently, I water them with more water, like more thoroughly soak the soil. This seems to keep them happy.
- Speaking of water, they like room temperature water, not cold water. It shocks their roots.
- Don’t fertilize too often or the variegation will fade. I fertilize mine once a month during spring and that’s about it.
- Because they grow natively in Africa, they like warmth! Don’t chill them by setting them in too-drafty of a window and don’t turn down your heat below 60 degrees at night.
Like all African Violets, you never want to let water splash onto the leaves. It’ll create spots. And remember, don’t water every few days. I water mine every 7-10 days and they seem to do well on that schedule. I also rotate the pot so the leaves grow in a more even pattern. But in the end, I also don’t overthink their care. If you put yours in a bright warm window and water every week or so, they should be fine. And, if they bloom, you’ll know you’re successfully keeping your Variegated African Violet happy!