Houseplants 101 – Alocasia

I am definitely new to Alocasias. I simply thought they were pretty, and since I want to offer a good variety of plants here at the shop, I thought it would be fun to try a couple different varieties. The two that I ordered are Polly and Low Rider.

Alocasias are native to the temperate forests of Asia and eastern Australia. There are somewhere close to 80 species of Alocasia, all of them boasting the same large pointy leaves, many with striking coloring and veining. The leaves of some varieties can get up to three feet long and some alocasias get as tall as 12 – 13 feet. Varieties of alocasia are actually consumed as a food source in places, where the root is used as a substitute for starchy foods like potatoes and the leaves are cooked and used as a source for vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin C, niacin, potassium, copper, and manganese.

Alocasia Polly is a beautiful plant. It has striking cream colored veins set against dark glossy green leaves that tend to point downward. Polly can eventually reach a size of 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide, with its leaves reaching an impressive size of almost 2 feet long. Polly is a hybrid and it’s horticultural name is Alocasia Amazonica. What is interesting about this particular hybrid is that no one seems to agree as to where it actually came from and who its parents are. The one thing that is known is that it isn’t from the Amazon, since alocasias don’t grow there. I read an article on that seems to solve this mystery and offers a lot of detailed information on this particular plant see the link here if you’d like to read it!

Alocasia Low Rider doesn’t have the same sordid past as its cousin Polly, and it doesn’t share the striking coloration either. Low Rider is a dwarf form of another alocasia called portora. It’s stature as a dwarf is what makes it a great candidate as a house plant since unlike its parent that can reach 6 to 8 feet in height, Low Rider tends to be a bit more demure at around two to three feet. It has beautiful large glossy green heart shaped wavy leaves that are born on a thick stock and would make a wonderful addition to any plant collection.

As for caring for these guys – they are a true tropical and would love it if you could replicate that environment for them in your home (or as close to it as you can get anyway!) This means warmth and light – but not direct sun. They grow naturally on the forest floor so close to a window but not in the sun’s direct path is optimal. They like it warm, so keep them out of areas with cold drafts (around here that would definitely include anywhere near a doorway – especially during the winter). They like humidity, so if your house tends to be dry you may want to have a small humidifier for them, or you can try placing their pot in a pebble filled tray (making sure the pot isn’t sitting in the water). Misting them is also recommended. They like their soil to be a little damp but not soaking wet. Rotate them regularly so that all sides of the plant benefit from the light source and it grows evenly, and keep the leaves free from dust and debris by gently wiping them with a damp cloth occasionally. Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer at half strength monthly through the spring and summer, making sure the soil is damp before you apply to avoid burning its roots. No fertilizer is required during the fall and winter months.

The leaves of Alocasias contain tiny oxalate crystals that are shaped like little needles which makes them toxic if ingested. If eaten raw these crystals can cause irritation to lips, mouth and throat. Cooking the leaves remedies the issue, but since your cat or dog might not wait until you cook one for them, you definitely want to keep your Alocasia away from your feline and canine companions.

One fact that I found interesting about this group of plants is that they can go dormant for a period of time. If they aren’t given their ideal environment, they can drop all of their leaves and basically go to sleep for some time until conditions change enough to wake them back up. So if your Alocasia does this, don’t despair! Try to figure out which of its needs aren’t being met and adjust accordingly.

Alocasias are definitely a must have for any plant collection, and there are many varieties out there to choose from. I look forward to having at least one or two varieties of Alocasia in my shop going forward, and I will be on the lookout for different and interesting specimens!

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