Colocasia esculenta

Colocasia esculenta is widely cultivated in the tropics and subtropics for its starchy edible corms and nutritious leaves. It is believed to be one of the earliest crops cultivated by humans. The origin of the species is uncertain, but it is presumed to be southeast Asia, the home of all other species in the genus. Evidence indicates cultivation in tropical India as early as 5000 BCE. From there its use spread westward to Egypt and the Mediterranean.

The comestible crop was also very important to Pacific Islanders. Cultivation in Hawaii led to the selection of over 150 varieties, including several used for the production of poi—a fermented paste of the cooked corms. Colocasia species contain toxic calcium oxalate crystals, which must be removed by soaking or cooking.

The large, peltate, heart-shaped leaves glow in the setting sun in today’s image. Leaves of C. esculenta can grow to 60 cm on plants that reach 1 to 2 m tall. Many variations of colour and form have been developed by a long history of cultivation, lending to the plants frequent ornamental use in modern day gardens. It is a returning perennial in zones 8b and 9, an evergreen perennial in its native tropical climate, and enjoys full sun or partial shade along with copious amounts of water. Here in Vancouver, the plant would not survive the cool winter, but each year it grows from its corms, which are lifted and stored in the fall.

Colocasia esculenta

11 responses to “Colocasia esculenta”

  1. Cathy

    The lighting shows such rich patterns. Great shot.

  2. mtn_laurel

    Hah – I always think it’s funny when I come across a latin name I don’t know, and think it’s a new plant I’ve never heard of, and then find out it’s something that’s all over the place! Great to think about common species in a different way.
    Taro always makes me wonder how anyone figured out they were edible, and whether anyone could breed/engineer a non-toxic variety.
    Lovely image.

  3. Connie

    My sister-in-law used to grow these, in Tennessee. She lifted the corms each fall, and each year they were bigger. The oldest ones made huge leaves. From one of those, she cast a birdbath for me. The swirly patterns highlighted in your lovely photo show up in the very smooth concrete she used.

  4. ladybug

    I don’t know if the information is incorrect or not, but found the comments from “saan” to be unnecessarily rude.
    On a more positive note, I really enjoy the daily photos and information. Thanks to the folks who make this possible, you brighten my day.

  5. elizabeth a airhart

    really fine picture quite 3d
    this plant really grows in florida
    on the list of invasive pests one uses care
    yet the garden centers sell it in containers
    brought over hundreds of years ago
    to grow here in the south as food
    thank you

  6. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    I’m so glad to see the beautiful colocasia featured here. I’ve loved this plant ever since I travelled to Malaysia and Thailand in 1989. Colocasia was growing wild there, wherever the soil was damp or wet — whcih, in SE Asia, I believe is pretty much everywhere.
    I first noticed it on the banks of a stream, and looked at it closely. The upper surface of those leaves had a slightly velvety texture, which caused water drops to bead up and roll right off the leaves.
    I also saw it growing in beautiful large clumps along river banks, and often noticed the lovely veins when the leaves were back-lit by the sun. Colocasia plants are very pretty when massed together in the wild.
    Try as I might, I couldn’t manage to capture as gorgeous an image as this one. Thanks for this.

  7. andy gladish

    Thanks so much for these daily delights!
    Would the authors please remember to include common names? I guessed that this is known as Taro, but still am not sure…

  8. Sara

    Love the web site – favorite spot each morning. Could you help the non biology majors a bit & give us the non botanical name? I look at this picture and think “elephant ears” – but ?? yes –no – maybe so? Thank you.

  9. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    In response to the previous couple of posts, if you go to the “genus” link in the write-up below the picture, you’ll find all kinds of information — including the common names of taro and dasheen. I believe Colocasia is also one of several alternative leafy plants that is used in the Caribbean to make callalo soup (which is delicious).

  10. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    Sorry for the typo — I meant “callaloo” soup.

  11. Pua

    The information in your article is not quite correct regarding the Hawaiian taro varieties. Hawaiians developed upwards of 300-400 varieties prior to the arrival of foreigners to the islands. Many were developed to fit the unique conditions of the soils, climactic conditions and water resources of specific places. All were used to produce food, especially poi, but also cooked corms, taro leaf and stems. Some varieties were more suited to poi making than others; each was worthy of feeding the population. Today, because of the loss of indigenous knowledge and the cultivars that went with that, as well as monocropped taro farms, there remains only an estimated 69 Hawaiian varieties and 15 Pacific varieties from that original biodiversity. The highest diversity of taro cultivars in the world is in Papua New Guinea where more than 900 varieties are documented in collections. Poi, by the way, begins as fresh pounded corms that do form a thick “paste”, but, the fermentation occurs after when it is held over for several days. Many Hawaiians prefer their poi sour. On a practical level, fermentation is a source of Vitamin B’s in the diet. Sorry to say, most visitors to Hawaii experience the runny, watered down version. The real deal is delicious.

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