Have you ever sat under an Elephant Ear leaf? I’m not sure what made me even think to do this, other than my curiosity to see one of my favorite plants from a whole other perspective, but as I looked at the leaf’s underbelly, I reflected on all of the reasons that make me love Elephant Ears.
1. Well, there’s the simple fact that I can lay on the ground and look up at the leaf. It’s a great place to take an afternoon nap, enjoy the shade, and look at the play of sunlight hitting the leaf’s upper surface. From below, it glows, much like stained glass does when its illuminated.
2. The color. Look carefully at an Elephant Ear leaf, top or bottom, and see the swirls of shades of green. It looks as if it’s painted, and the greens always look refreshing.
3. They’re waterproof. Each morning it’s a treat to see pearls of dew gathered in the folds of the leaves, or perhaps what’s left from an overnight rain. When the morning light hits the beads, they look like drops of mercury or silver. I often think that if I find myself on “Survivor,” I would roof my shelter with Elephant Ear leaves, or at least use one as an umbrella.
4. Size matters. As the season progresses, leaves unfold larger and larger. One leaf can measure 3 feet. I have found that when I keep the plants in a pot, they remain stunted. Plant them in the ground, and they let their presence be known. Similarly, one large leaf placed in a vase can be just as dramatic in the house.
5. Taste of the tropics. As a Zone 6 or 7 gardener, depending on the specifics of the Cold Hardiness map, I like to create a tropical feel in the yard. Elephant Ears are more than able to create the illusion that my Long Island garden is in South Florida.
6. Easy care. As much as I dislike fall clean-up, it’s necessary when it comes to Elephant Ears. Right around the first frost, I’ll cut back the leaves, dig up the bulbs, and let them cure for a few days. I’ll try to shake out much of the excess dirt. The dug bulbs are then placed in paper bags and covered with peat moss. Lately, I’ve also tried plastic bags, and this also seems to work, as long as I keep the bag open. Either way, I place the bag in a cool, dry place, such as the cement bunker that is behind a bedroom closet and under the front steps. In the spring, I’ll bring out the bulbs, pull off the dead roots and tops, plant them in pots with the tip just below the soil (maybe even peaking out slightly), place them in a sunny location, and give them lots of water. Once they sprout, in the ground they go. Elephant Ears are slow to start, but with water and heat and humidity, they take off.
7. They bleed. I learned this the hard way during my first fall clean-up of Elephant Ears. After cutting the stalks, I noticed that my clothes became stained with a rusty red color. I then noticed the ends of the stalks with the same color. The stains are permanent, which means that I now have work clothes specifically for Elephant Ear cutting, and they are stained with memories of previous prunings.
8. They multiply. I started with a single bulb, and now I have enough to fill one bed, and more to intersperse with hydrangeas that have not reached full height. In fact, I was so overwhelmed with babies, that I brought the extras to work and shared some Elephant Ear love.
9. They’re fun. The leaves almost bounce in the wind. I will often walk by them and tap each leaf like a drum to make them bounce. Besides, visitors will always smile when they see them, especially the larger leaves.
10. Have you ever seen a new leaf? They emerge from the stalk of an older leaf, like a tightly wound sword. And then they open, like a sail unfurling. The larger the leaf, the greater the opening.
That’s it for now. Happy Gardening!