BioStudies Exotic Species Identification Guide

Horticultural forms sold as Colocasia and Alocasia; most are likely too sensitive to develop large feral populations in Texas.

COMMON ELEPHANTEAR Colocasia esculenta
Family: Araceae

COMMERCIAL IMPORTANCE: Vast numbers of common elephantear bulbs are sold annually by many types of commercial plant dealers. In Florida, Hawaii, and elsewhere in the tropics the species is cultivated for human consumption. Other related species are sold horticulturally, but in lesser numbers. LEGAL RESTRICTIONS: Because common elephantear is already widely established in Texas, legal restrictions would have little functional ecological impacts and would negatively impact commercial dealers, as well as home owners already cultivating it. Educational programs to caution about the dangers this plant poses are far more likely to produce useful results in reducing environmental damage. In Texas, the Texas Fish Farming Act (SB 1507 of 1989) makes it illegal to release any aquatic plant, fish, or shellfish, except native bait fishes, into state waters without a permit. Elephantears planted in or escaped into local waters could be considered a violation. Common elephantear (Colocasia esculenta) from Southeast Asia and Indonesia is both a widely recognized home and garden plant and is also grown as taro for human consumption. It is readily available from an array of sources around the world. It has been present in Texas for at least 100 years. Unfortunately it has escaped cultivation in Texas and elsewhere and created major ecological problems. Common elephantear can displace native plants and animals, including cattail and reed beds. In the San Marcos River (below) it was a contributing element in the extinction of San Marcos gambusia (Gambusia georgei), a small fish previously found nowhere else.

Robert G. Howells – BioStudies
160 Bearskin Trail, Kerrville, Texas 78028 May 2009
Images and materials herein are not available for reuse or other applications without written permission of the author.

SIMILAR SPECIES: A number of other native and exotic plants also produce arrowhead-shaped leaves. All of the examples shown below can be readily distinguished by noting the point of stem attachment, general leaf shape, and vein patterns. Common Elephantear Colocasia esculenta Arrowhead Sagittaria Pickerelweed Pontederia

Many horticultural forms of common elephantear have been developed, including the nearly black variety shown above left. Flowers (above center) have a jack-in-the-pulpit appearance. Though often grown from large “bulbs”, some varieties develop runners that produce daughter plants and create a tangled mass of plants and roots that preclude other plants. There are multiple species of Colocasia and two other elephantear genera as well, Alocasia and Xanthosoma. Xanthosoma differs from Colocasia and Alocasia in female flower structures and with sterile flowers placed between male and female flowers. Xanthosoma and Alocasia are otherwise both large and can be difficult to distinguish. Many domestic forms of all three confuse identification. Genetic DNA studies are also impacting previous classification of these plants. Further, most species of all three genera have high temperature and humidity requirements that preclude their becoming established or noxious at most places in Texas. One arrowleaf elephantear, S. sagittifolium has been introduced in San Marcos, but limited tolerance to dryness suggests this plant is not likely to be widely problematic.

Arrowarum Peltandra

Water Spinach Ipomoea aquaticum

Powdered Thalia Thalia dealbata

Common elephantear Colocasia Stem attaches on leaf bottom

Tropical elephantear Alocasia Stem may attach at leaf bottom or at the notch Related to Colocasia

Arrowleaf elephantear Xanthosoma Stems usually attach at the notch Related to Caladium.

Although it is unfortunately too late to prevent common elephantear from becoming established in Texas, caution should be used in any new plantings. Never plant this species in or near Texas rivers, streams, or reservoirs. Avoid plantings in areas prone to flooding. Avoid 100-year flood plain areas entirely. Where practical, eliminate newly invading beds when first discovered.

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