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.