Alocasia odora, or upright elephant ear, is a beyond stunning tropical plant that you can grow in your garden at home! As a bonus, the plant multiplies, and you can save the bulbs for next year. Learn about caring for this plant with my post.
How do you take care of alocasia odora?
Man, I have had this post on my “to write” list for years! Honestly…this is probably the first elephant ear plant I ever grew. It’s definitely a “gateway” elephant ear plant because it’s so easy to find in garden centers in nurseries.
You’ll often find it either as a potted patio plant—often potted with other things for a “ready-to-go” look. Or you’ll find it in the form of a giant bulb/corm that you plant in the ground. I got my bulb at my local independent garden center, but I see them in big box stores all the time.
Odora can get quite large, and its leaves can also get very large. They are shaped like large blades, arrowheads, or elephant ears. Each leaf has a slightly ribbed edge and is a medium green, emerging from a long petiole (stem).
Is alocasia odora the same as elephant ear?
Alocasia odora is often referred to as an “upright elephant ear” or a “giant” elephant ear. Oftentimes people refer to alocasia odora plants as just “elephant ears.” It can be THE plant people associate with the broad term really used to describe many types of alocasia, colocasia, caladium, and more.
So, alocasia odora is the same as an elephant ear. All alocasia odora plants are elephant ears, but not all elephant ears are alocasia odoras. Not all elephant ears are even alocasia, as I mentioned above.
You can check out my post all about elephant ear plants and how to care for them for more. I outline some common types, including photos and other info.
Is alocasia odora indoor or outdoor plant?
Alocasia odora is often grown as a seasonal patio plant in a pot or in the ground. I have done it both ways. However, you can also grow it indoors as a houseplant!
If you grow your plant outdoors in the ground, you’ll need to dig up the bulbs/corms and store them indoors over the winter unless you live in USDA grow zones 9, 10, or 11. More on that in a bit.
Plenty of people will grow it outdoors in a pot for the spring and summer, bringing the plant indoors for the fall and winter. They can also be grown as houseplants all year long, and I’ll talk about some of the care differences throughout this post.
Can alocasia odora take full sun?
Yes! Alocasia odora can take full sun. It also does well in partial shade and even full shade outdoors. I have mine growing in full sun in the ground right now. And it is growing beautifully.
If you have your plant in a pot and are bringing it home from a garden center, take note of the conditions it was in. If they had it in full sun outdoors, you can put yours in full sun.
However, if they had it inside a greenhouse or under a shade cloth, I would recommend slowly acclimating the plant to direct sun. Give it more light every few days so it can build up its tolerance—you don’t want to burn the foliage!
How about lighting needs indoors?
Indoors, look for a spot that has bright, indirect light. Generally even your sunniest window will not provide the level of light you’ll get outside, so you shouldn’t run the risk of burning the plant.
You may have to rotate the plant every few weeks to avoid the plant growing lopsided toward a lighting source, though. Just monitor it to make sure you’re giving it enough light.
What is the best soil for an upright elephant ear?
If you’re planting your alocasia odora in the ground as I do, here’s what I did. We have very rocky, dense, clay soil. So I dug out a hole about 3 times or so bigger than the big bulb/corm I brought home.
I then mixed in some leaf compost from a bag I got at Lowes with some of the native soil. This helps to loosen things up, add nutrients, and improve drainage. I put a layer in, add the bulb, and then fill in around it with more of the mixture. Make sure the tip of the bulb stays out of the soil a bit.
In pots both indoors and outdoors,you can use any type of soil that is designed for houseplants, container gardens, or indoor plants. These come pre-mixed with things like bark or perlite to improve drainage.
How often do you water upright elephant ears?
For the alocasia odora planted in my garden in the ground? I almost never water it. I let mother nature take care of things. However, in Maryland we’ve experienced increased periods of drought lately.
When we have several days without rain and things are really starting to dry out, I will give the plant a drink using either rain from the rain barrel or the hose. It’s pretty tolerant of neglect when in the ground.
If you have the plant in a container as I also do on my patio, it’s a different story. The size of the container will constain the size of the plant, and I’ve also been a little neglectful of my containers.
Containers need lots of water because the sun and heat totally zaps the moisture from them. I also have mine planted with a sweet potato vine, so there isn’t a lot of room in there. I water this one daily if it didn’t rain that day.
And indoors as a houseplant, you’ll want to water your odora after about the top half of the soil dries out. It enjoys moist soil, but not waterlogged soil. The roots need to breathe.
This generally shakes out to about once a week in the spring and summer for me, once every 10-14 days in the fall and winter. But this depends on the growing conditions, so make sure you check that soil!
What humidity conditions are best?
As far as humidity goes, alocasia plants in general enjoy higher humidity. Above 50% for sure, which is higher than most households.
You can consider adding a humidifier to help keep your plant happy. This is why I love growing alocasia plants outdoors in the spring and summer…they thrive in hot, humid Maryland summers!
Can you leave elephant ears out all winter?
Alocasia odora will grow happily in warm temperatures. You can grow it yearround outdoors if you live in USDA zones 9, 10, and 11. In zone 9, temperatures can drop down below freezing, but it’s not nearly as common as where I live on the border of zones 6 and 7.
Keep in mind, though, that colder temps in these grow zones might kill off the foliage. The plant will resprout, though, because it shouldn’t get cold enough to nuke the bulbs/corms.
The plant will be fine outdoors when night temperatures begin dropping into the 50s Fahrenheit, but it isn’t ideal. Shoot for temperatures in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and even 90s.
This plant is not cold or frost hardy at all, so make sure to drag potted odora plants indoors when temperatures begin to drop. Or, if you have it in the ground, dig up the bulbs/corms and store them indoors until spring.
Do upright elephant ears come back every year?
They are perennial plants, meaning they come back every year, in USDA grow zones 9, 10, and 11. Otherwise, speaking from anecdotal evidence, they might come back if you have a mild winter. Or if you have them planted in the ground close to a heated building.
However, the best thing to do in USDA grow zones 8 and below is to dig up your bulbs and store them for the winter. I have a whole post about that here: How to dig up and store elephant ear bulbs for the winter.
But here is an overview. Just cut down all of the foliage and stems to the soil line. Then dig up the corm, trim down the roots close to the bulb, and set it somewhere to dry out.
You can then store the bulbs somewhere like a basement or closet. Put them in a paper bag or box, and take it from me…label them! You will forget which bulbs are which by spring if you have lots of different kinds🙂
Do upright elephant ears multiply?
Yes, elephant ear plants, including alocasia odora, multiply. They spread underground through runners that produce new offshoot baby plants.
When you dig them up, you can easily separate the baby/pup plants from the mother plant and plant them separately. So they basically propagate themselves!
How tall do upright elephant ears get?
Upright elephant ears, or alocasia odoras, can grow to be 4 to 6 feet tall and just as wide. To achieve this size, I recommend potting them in the ground so they have enough room to spread out and reach their fullest potential.
Mine is on a slight incline off of our patio, so when standing on the patio, it looks smaller than it really is. It’s probably about 5 feet tall. We had a really slow start to the growing season here this year with temperature fluctuations and drought.
As of writing this in mid-September, my largest leaf is 26 inches tall and 18 inches wide. I think I’ll plant it somewhere different next year and group a few together for a dramatic look. It has a hard time really shining in this spot because I have it by some larger perennial grasses.
How fast do upright elephant ears grow?
In good conditions with consistently warm temperatures, upright elephant ear plants grow quite prolifically. As I mentioned, our growing season got off to a rough start this year.
My bulb sat in the ground after our last first for weeks and weeks before doing anything. I actually thought that maybe it had rotted or something, but I didn’t dig it up.
FINALLY it sprouted a small leaf. And after that it was off to the races. It put out new leaves constantly as long as I kept it watered during periods with no rain.
You can help encourage healthy new growth by periodically fertilizing your plant, especially if it’s outdoors. If you’ve just potted the plant up, remember that the soil you use probably has some sort of slow-release fertilizer in it, so don’t over-fertilize.
How often should I repot an alocasia odora?
I tend to wait until my plant is super rootbound (roots growing around the bottom of the pot in circles) or the roots are growing out of the pots drainage holes before repotting. Use fresh soil and size up an inch or two with pot size.
If your plant is happy and growing well, it’s likely you will need to repot every 1-3 years depending. Just keep an eye on it!
Should I cut off dead elephant ear leaves?
Yes, I’m a big fan of cutting off the older elephant leaves as they either die off or just look unsightly. Don’t be worried if you have to do some pruning throughout the season. Pruning is totally normal.
I find that pruning off the older, smaller leaves really helps the plant focus its energy on new growth. And the leaves get bigger and bigger each time!
What pest are upright elephant ears vulnerable to?
Spider mites! This is usually not an issue outdoors. Spider mites thrive and are attracted to warm, dry conditions. And certain plants—including alocasia plants. See my post about how to get rid of spider mites on alocasia plants for more.
Is alocasia odora poisonous?
Yes, alocasia plants contain calcium oxalates. According to the ASPCA, ingesting the plant can cause oral irritation; pain and swelling of mouth, tongue and lips; excessive drooling; vomiting; and difficulty swallowing.
Humans and animals should not ingest this plant. So make sure you keep these plants away from pets who might be interested in eating them. Keep an eye on your kids, too.