African Mask Plant (Alocasia)_ Types, Care, & Growing Tips

Alocasia is a genus of about 75 species like elephant ears and Mayan mask of tuberous and rhizomatous perennials originally from Subtropical Asia and Eastern Australia. Also known as the African mask, Elephant Ear or Kris plant, Alocasia It is a flowering plant but its main decorative value is in the broad, waxy leaves of this popular houseplants from the Araceae family.

Alocasia is a group of plants, a genus, but all the species and cultivars within this genus need the same basic care. Here is a short summary for proper Alocasia plant care:

  • Alocasia plant will thrive in a spot with plenty of bright but indirect light.
  • Maintain the soil on the drier side but at the same time constantly humid.
  • Make sure the soil is well drained and check the roots for signs of root rot regularly.
  • Mist the plants regularly and dust the leaves.
  • The best temperature for African mask plant is between 60 and 75oF (15 to 25oC).

It looks pretty straightforward, but these are only the very key points. If you want your Alocasia plant to look fantastic all year round, you will need to read all the detailed and step-by-step guide we have put together for you in this article.

Alocasia Plant Overview

Alocasia is a subtropical evergreen perennial which is famous for its leaves. Depending on the species they can range from 8 to 60 inches in length (20 to 150 cm). Their shape is usually sagittate (spearhead shaped) or cordate (heart shaped).

The leaves of the Alocasia plants are very waxy in texture, they often have very visible ribbed veins, often straight and radiating from the center. Sometimes these veins are of a different color from the leaf, which can range in color from lime green to dark hunter green.

The leaves grow at the end of a long petiole, which can reach 3 to 5 feet in length (90 to 150 cm). The petioles radiate from a central point at the base of the plant, and the leaves on them sometimes pointing up, and sometimes at an angle or pointing down depending on the species.

The African Mask plants have corms underground which contain irritants, but you can eat them if you cook them. The blooms of Alocasia consist of a spathe and spadix, like peace lilies. These can vary in color from light green to whitish.

Alocasia Plant Profile

Botanical name: Alocasia spp.

Common name(s): alocasia, individual species’ common names include giant taro, ‘ape, biga, elephant ears, African mask plant.

Plant type: subtropical herbaceous perennial.

Size: between 2 and 15 feet tall depending on the species (60 to 450 cm, or 4.5 meters). In spread it varies between 2 to 8 feet (60 to 240 cm).

Potting soil: porous potting soil, one part peat (or substitute) one part perlite or coarse potting sand.

Outdoor soil: well drained but always moist loam, clay or sandy soil.

Soil pH: acidic to neutral, 5.5 to 6.5 ideally.

Light requirements indoors: bright and plenty indirect light.

Watering requirements: regular watering but you need to allow the top soil to dry up before watering. Keep the partly dry but with humidity in it.

Fertilizing: frequently (every 2 to 4 weeks) with an organic 20:10:20 NPK fertilizer during the growing season.

Bloom time: especially in spring and early summer, but any time.

Alocasia Varieties

There are some famous Alocasia varieties like:

  • Alocasia amazonica ‘Polly’, maybe the most popular of all alocasias, it is a compact plant with  very dark green leaves that look like shields with wavy edges and white veins on them and a very glossy surface.
  • Alocasia ‘Mayan Mask’, also known as upright elephant ears, it is a huge hybrid bred by Brian Paul Williams, with huge upright spearhead shaped leaves that can reach 5 feet in length (150 cm). They are deep emerald green and glossy at the top, but purple on the back, and they have almost straight light green ribbed veins.
  • Alocasia zebrina, which has very smooth, light emerald green leaves, but the petioles are striped, like a zebra.
  • Alocasiaportodora, a.k.a. elephant ear, is a large and stunning variety with upright lanceolate leaves that can reach 4 to 5 feet in length (120 to 150 cm). They are emerald green and very shiny and they display very visible ribbed veins that start from the petiole and reach the edge of the leaf.
  • Alocasia reginula ‘Black Velvet’, a variety with rounded leaves, almost heart shaped, of a deep green color with light but delicate veins in them.
  • Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Stingray’, which is famous because its upward pointing emerald green leaves have a long and thin tip and wavy sides, which make it look like a stingray.
  • Alocasia baginda ‘Silver Dragon’, a stunning variety with cordate silver white leaves with dark green veins that form a very decorative pattern on them.
  • Alocasia macrorrhizza ‘Giant Taro’, a very popular variety with massive sagittate leaves with a rich emerald green and very glossy surface and very regular light green ribbed veins. Each leaf can reach 3 feet in length (90 cm).
  • Alocasia cuprea ‘Red Secret’, which has cordate leaves but joint at the back, quite rounded and of the most beautiful shiny purple color, with deep veins.
  • Alocasia lauterbachiana ‘Purple Sword’, with long arrowhead shaped leaves that grow upward and outward from the petioles and have the darkest green and purple shades.

There are many others, of course, but these are some of the most popular and they should give you an idea of the range of colors, shapes and personalities of our plant.

But now, let’s look at the key growing needs of Alocasia.

Step-By-Step Care And Growing Guide For Alocasia Plants

Do you wish to know exactly how to look after your Alocasia, whichever variety you choose? We are going to look at all the needs of your plant, in a simple and clear way, step by step.

Light Requirements For Growing Alocasia Plants

Alocasia needs bright and plenty indirect light. In practical terms, this depends on whether you grow it indoors or outdoors:

  • Indoors, place it at least 3 to 5 feet (90 to 150 cm) away from a southeast or west facing window.
  • Indoors, place it at least 10 inches (25 cm) away from the wall. This is not just to avoid that the leaves touch the wall. It will also allow your plant to get reflected light from the wall.
  • Indoors, regularly turn the pot of your Alocasia. If you don’t, it will get light only from one direction and it will grow to one side.
  • Indoors, keep it away from direct sunlight, especially through window panes. This will end up burning the plant’s leaves.
  • Outdoors, place it in partial shade, dappled shade or filtered sunlight.
  • If you are scared that strong sunlight in summer may ruin its leaves, protect your Alocasia with a shading net.

Alocasia Watering Needs

Watering your Alocasia correctly can make all the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy plant. It needs regular watering and constant humidity but also a partly dry soil. This may be tricky to achieve. But here are some guidelines to help you.

  • Adapt the watering to the needs of your plant. Do not think that watering it like clockwork is correct. There are moments when the plant drinks more and moments when it drinks less.
  • Make sure at least 2 or 3 inches of the top soil is dry before watering (5 to 7.5 cm).
  • Aerate the soil before watering. You can do it with a fork, pushing it gently into the soil and then lifting it only partially. Get the fork to form a 30o angle approximately, then bring it back to the original position and take it out of the soil.
  • The soil needs to be almost dry but still have some moisture in it before watering your Alocasia.
  • When Alocasias produce new leaves, they drink a lot! So, adapt the watering accordingly. If you see it is growing a new leaf, keep an eye on your plant and be ready to water it more frequently.
  • Reduce watering in winter, or when and if the plant goes into dormancy. Indoors, they may not realize it is winter and keep growing, often at a lower rate though.
  • Use room temperature water.
  • If you overwater or underwater the plant, it will drop a leaf.
  • Outdoors, keep the soil humid but not wet, at all times. Alocasias cannot stand drought, not even for a short period. Similarly, wet conditions will lead to root rot and possibly kill your plant.
  • If you want to be sure, use a moisture probe with Alocasia. Stick it in the soil and water it when the gauge gets to around 2 (out of 10).
  • Above all, follow your plant’s hints.

Alocasia Humidity Needs

Alocasia is a subtropical plant so it heeds constant and fairly high humidity levels.

  • Keep the humidity level above 60%. If it goes below it, the plant will suffer.
  • The ideal humidity for Alocasia is just above 70%. If you can, this would be better.
  • Keep it far from heaters and sources of heat.
  • Do use a humidity bowl or tray. This can be put under the plant’s tray (saucer etc.) and filled with water. It will keep the air humidity high without making the soil moist.
  • Mist spray your plant regularly, especially in summer.

The Best Soil For Alocasia Plants

Whether you grow Alocasia in the ground or in containers, the soil needs to have three characteristics:

  • It is well drained.
  • It is well drained.
  • It remains humid.

To achieve this balance, we need to distinguish between potted plants and plants in full soil.

Best soil To use For Alocasia Growing In containers and pots:

  • Use 50% of slightly acidic rich soil (like peat, humus based soil) and 50% of drainage material, like perlite or coarse potting sand.
  • Check that when you water the plant, the water goes through well but not too fast. Basically it must take a few seconds for it to get out from the bottom of the pot.
  • Do check the soil’s drainage and water retention of the soil regularly.
  • Correct the soil with sand if it stays very wet or waterlogged after watering.

Best soil to use for Alocasia growing in full ground:

  • Alocasia grows in well drained clay loam or sandy soil.
  • It will not tolerate chalk based soil.
  • Add sand or coarse sand to improve aeration and drainage if necessary.
  • Aerate the soil regularly with a fork. Just push it into the ground and lift it slightly without turning it with the tips of the fork. Aim to get the fork to make a 30o angle.
  • Make sure you find it a spot which is sheltered from the wind, especially cold winds coming from the north.

In both cases:

  • Alocasia likes slightly acidic soil.
  • The ideal pH is between 5.5 and 6.5.
  • It will adapt to neutral soil (around 7).
  • It will tolerate slightly lower pH than 5.5.
  • It will not tolerate alkaline soil.

Alocasia Temperature Needs

Alocasia is very sensitive to temperature changes; in subtropical areas, the temperature is very steady all year round. The average indoor temperature is usually right for Alocasia. In detail:

  • The ideal temperature for Alocasia plant is between 60 and 75oF (15 to 25oC).
  • It will suffer if the temperature drops under 60oF (15oC) for any extended periods of time indoors.
  • It will tolerate higher temperatures, in the 80s F (30s C).
  • Outdoors, Alocasia is usually hardy to USDA zones 9 to 11.
  • However some varieties are hardier. For example, elephant ear and is hardy to USDA zones 7 to 11.

How To Repot An Alocasia Plant

Whenever your Alocasia outgrows the pot, you should repot it. It is a fairly fast growing plant, so this is necessary.

  • The best times to repot Alocasia plants are spring and summer.
  • Larger Alocasia plant varieties will need repotting on average every 18 to 24 months.
  • Smaller Alocasia plants will take longer, every 2 to 3 years.
  • While repotting, move your Alocasia plant to a container 25 – 30% bigger than current pot.
  • Check the roots for root rot while you repot.

Propagating Alocasia Plants

You can propagate Alocasia by clump division or rhizome division and you can do it in spring and early summer, when the plant comes out of dormancy. This is when the plant is most vigorous and ready to grow new specimens.

How To Propagate Alocasia From Rhizomes
  • When the plant is adult, it will have rhizomes under the ground.
  • Dig at the side of the plant (unless you are repotting it) without damaging the roots.
  • A few inches under the surface you should see rhizomes.
  • Choose one with at least two or three gems on it.
  • Cut it sharply.
  • Correct the cut if necessary.
How To Propagate Alocasia From For Clump Division
  • Follow the stems and petioles to the base of the clump.
  • Identify where the plants grow.
  • Choose which clump you want to divide. This should be fairly large, but smaller than the parent clump.
  • Gently part the two clumps with your hands. You only need to push them apart, without dividing them.
  • Insert the blade into the ground and cut the roots at the base of the two clumps.
  • Gently remove the clump you wish to transplant.

Once you have planted them, keep them warm and humid for a few weeks (but not wet) to encourage growth.

How To Trim Alocasia

You should not usually prune Alocasia. This is a plant with a naturally beautiful habit and shape. Actually pruning it may ruin its appearance.

  • Do remove dry and decayed leaves.
  • Absolutely remove dead leaves if they were caused by overwatering. You will notice this because they are soft rather than dry.
  • Make sure you remove the leaves at the base of the petiole but without damaging the plant.
  • It is easier to remove dry leaves than leaves that died for overwatering. With the latter, you may need a sterile blade to help you cut the petiole as close as possible to its base.

How To Fertilize Alocasia

Alocasia needs frequent and regular feeding with a good organic fertilizer. They are fairly hungry plants and they need to sustain a lot of growth. They also come from very fertile regions.

Naturally, indoor and outdoor Alocasia plants have slightly different needs.

  • Use good quality organic fertilizer.
  • A good N-P-K is 20-10-20 is ideal. However, also 20-20-20 or similar balanced N-P-K (10-10-10; 14-14-14) will do.
  • Use half the dosage.
  • From May to September, you should fertilize every 2 weeks to maximum 4 weeks.
  • Reduce feeding as September comes.
  • Compost tea and home made compost will be fine too!
In The Ground:
  • Use organic slow release fertilizer.
  • Scatter about 2 pounds of fertilizer (1 kg) every 100 square feet (9.3 m2) of soil.
  • Repeat every 2 to 4 weeks from May to September.
  • Reduce in September.
  • Stop feeding in winter.

Alocasia Flowers

Alocasia is a flowering plant, and it has female and male flowers. They are different, and we shall see how.

  • Female Alocasia flowers are in the floral chamber. This is the spherical bottom part of the whole reproductive structure.
  • Male Alocasia flowers are above the female ones and they are made of spathe and spadix, just like peace lilies.
  • Even if they are one next to the other, the male and the female flowers do not open at the same time.
  • They vary in color, between white and green.

After flowering, where the spadix used to be, Alocasia will produce a clump of red berries that will stay on the plant until ripe.

Note that Alocasia does not have a proper blooming season. Most often, they will bloom in spring or early summer, but they can bloom at any time.

Finally, they are not easy bloomers; it is fairly rare for one of them to flower outside its natural environment. It happens more often in greenhouses or parks where they have ideal conditions, less often indoors.

Pests  And Diseases Affecting Alocasia Plant Growth

Alocasia suffers from some common diseases, including root rot, crown rot, stem rot, leaf spot and Xanthomonas. It can also be affected by parasites like spider mites (red especially) and scale insects.

In most cases, problems are due to excessive soil or air humidity.

  • Root, crown or stem rot happens when part of the plant literally rots away due to bacteria. These can attack the plant only with excess humidity. Crown and stem rot are clearly visible. You will notice parts of the plant go soft and yellow first, then brown and lacerated. Root rot is similar, but hidden below ground. And root rot is the most dangerous. In all cases, remove the rotting tissue (be abundant with the cut) with a sharp and sterile blade. For root rot especially, aerate the roots, and sprinkle them with sulphur powder.
  • Leaf spot is a fungal infection which causes yellow and brown spots on the leaves, followed by lacerations. It is due to overwatering. Cut the badly damaged leaves and spray neem oil onto all the plant to kill the fungus.
  • Xanthomonas is caused by small bacteria which damage the leaves of your Alocasia. The leaves will change color and lacerate. Cut the damaged leaves with a sterile blade. Then, there are natural antibacterials available you can spray on your plant. Some are copper based but the most advanced are essential oil based like tea tree oil or thyme essential oil.
  • Spider mites are tiny arachnids that will find home on your Alocasia, especially under the leaves and close to where they connect to the petiole. They are not lethal to a healthy plant, but they can weaken it and make it more susceptible to other ailments. Mixing Castile soap with water and spraying it on the leaves is a good solution, as the soap dehydrates them. Be particular about the underside of the leaves.
  • Scale insects are tiny little creatures that attach to the plant and suck its sap. You may not notice them at first, and only when the colony has become big. They will weaken the plant, especially its immune system. Your first response should be to spray soap water on the plant very abundantly, till the plant drips. Make sure you get the undersides of the leaves. Repeat after 10 or 14 days. If this fails, you may want to take more drastic measures.

Frequently Asked Questions About Growing Alocasia Plants

Now, that’s all you need to know to make your Alocasia happy, but how about your curious questions? We have found out the most asked questions about this plant and also written down the answers for you!

Is Alocasia Poisonous?

Unfortunately Alocasia is very, very poisonous indeed! Never eat any part of the plant. If infested, it is really serious for humans, cats, dogs, horses and virtually all pets… It is not “just poisonous” it is lethal and it can kill you. The sap of Alocasia is also an irritant. So, if it touches your skin, it may give you rashes.

Also be very careful with the sharp edges of the laves of this plant. They can cut you (depending on the species) and irritate your skin and wound.

Why Are The Leaves Of My Alocasia Drooping?

Drooping leaves is a very typical symptom that you Alocasia is not a happy plant. In fact, with its big and sometimes heavy leaves, one of the first things it does when it needs to tell you that something is wrong is droop its beautiful leaves.

The causes though may be many… It may be any of these:

  • Underwatering
  • Too little light
  • Low nutrient levels in the soil
  • Pests

It may also just be that the season is changing. Yes, sometimes these plants suffer the change of temperature and light and droop their leaves.

My Alocasia Has Dropped A Leaf, Is It Ok?

Alocasia plants do drop leaves every now and then. Usually, though this happens sporadically and with one leaf at a time, and well spaced out from the next leaf.

If there are more than one leaves dying at the same time, you should worry.

Also check that when the leaf dies, it simply dries up naturally, starting at the tips.

If you see any signs of rotting, unhealthy coloring, scattered lesions and spots, then your plant may not be well. Check the list of common diseases with Alocasia in this article if this is the case.

What Happens After An Alocasia Plant Drops A Leaf?

First of all, help your plant and as soon as it has dried up, remove the dropped leaf.  Next, wait for a few weeks and you will have a beautiful surprise! Your plant should soon start growing a new leaf..

Yes, these plants like to drop a leaf and grow a new one. And member that when they do that, they will be very thirsty indeed. And if you have not fertilized it in a while, a new leaf may be a good chance to give your beautiful plant some feeding…

My Alocasia Leaves Are Changing Color. What’s Happening?

First of all, let’s distinguish if it is changing color because of a disease or other reasons. If it has spots, lacerations, if it is rotting etc. then it is an infection (fungal or bacterial). This also happens fairly fast and in localized spots on the leaf.

However, if the change of coloring is gradual and diffused, regular throughout the leaf, it is another reason altogether. In this case, it is a matter of light!

If the leaf of your Alocasia is turning paler, it may well mean that you need to give it more light. The leaves of Alocasia will reduce the chloroplasts inside the leaves and the quantity of chlorophyll when there is too much light. It makes sense if you think about it… It would have too much photosynthesis…

However, if the leaves are turning dark, it is the opposite case: your Alocasia plants needs more light. In this case, the opposite is happening, the plant is trying to compensate for the lack of light packing its cells with chloroplasts.

What Is The Difference Between Alocasia And Colocasia?

Alocasia and Colocasia are similar plants in many ways, but with a little distinction…So what is the difference? Alocasia has rhizomes and tubers or corms, Colocasia only has corms.

They are members of the same family. They originate from the same region. Not exactly the same because Colocasia does not grow spontaneous in East Australia, but only in Subtropical Asia. They have broad, beautiful cordate or sagittate leaves on top of long petioles…

There are also  aquatic species of Colocasia, like water taro (Colocasia esculenta). And the corms of this plant are used in many dishes in cuisines all over the world.

Can I Move My Alocasia Outdoors In Summer?

Yes you can move them outdoors! Actually you Alocasia may lie a bit of fresh air. But make sure that the temperature does not drop under 60oF (15oC) even at night before you move it.

This will usually happen from late May or early June in most temperate regions.

Also make sure you find it a sheltered spot away from strong direct sunlight, especially noon and afternoon Sun.

I Have Seen Alocasia Plants Next To Ponds. Can I Grow My Alocasia Next To My Pond?

No you cannot grow Alocasia plants next to ponds. And I need to correct you: you have not seen Alocasia plants growing next to ponds… They were Colocasia plants, which look similar, but can grow in wet and boggy grounds.

Alocasias would die in those conditions, and they would die very fast indeed. Remember they need very well drained soil and like it humid but on the dry side. If your pond would do with beautiful leaves like Alocasia’s then plant a Colocasia there.

Alocaisa And Your Own Tropical Paradise

Whether you grow Alocasia indoors or outdoors, these plants have foliage like very few you can find in the world.

Showy, glossy, and sometimes even colossal in size, these leaves can turn your living room, your terrace and your garden into a perfect looking, lush and exotic tropical paradise of your own. And now you know how to make this paradise look healthy and happy too!

Alocasia Plant Care Guide

Amber Noyes

Written By

Amber Noyes

Amber Noyes was born and raised in a suburban California town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California as well as a BS in Biology from the University of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers’ markets, and plant nursery, she understands what makes plants thrive and how we can better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially organic gardening, houseplants, and growing plants in a small space.

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  1. Wow, very comprehensive guide for growing alocasias.
    Thanks for the tips. I wantef to repot mine, I just don’t know for sure what should I do as there’s too much info on the Internet that seems misleading.

  2. Avatar photo Jean Palmer says:

    Should the long stalks be staked or left alone?

    1. Most healthy alocasia plants don’t need to be staked because their stems are strong (though slender). You can tie your plant up to a stake if it’s looking droopy — but try to get to the bottom of the problem, too.