Every garden needs its share of bold foliage, and no foliage is bolder than that of elephant's ear. Most Southerners are familiar with the common green-leafed variety of this tropical Asian plant, but many new and exciting forms are making their way to the marketplace. Growing from large tubers, these perennials attain enormous sizesome reach 8 ft. or tallerwith leathery, heart- shaped leaves that may reach 1 by 3 ft. Flowers resemble giant callas (Zantedeschia) but seldom appear. Some elephant's ears form a single clump; others spread.
Elephant's ears are effective with tree ferns and other large-leafed tropical plants; they're also good in pots or when massed to create a quickif temporaryscreen. Try combining dark-foliaged selections with yellow- or green-leafed plants. Not browsed by deer.
'Black Coral'. Glossy, deep black leaves with glowing blue veins. Grows 4 ft. high; 3 ft. wide.
'Black Magic'. Spectacular purplish black leaves with purplish red stems. Forms a 5-ft. clump. Great color accent for containers or the back of the border. Hardy to 0F.
'Diamond Head'. Glossy, chocolate-black leaves are up to 15 inches in. long and ruffled. Forms a 4-ft.-high clump.
'Elena'. Chartreuse leaves with cream-colored veins. Grows 2-4 ft. Spreads.
'Fontanesii.' Purplish black stems rise to 7 ft.; each carries a huge (3-ft.) green leaf with a shiny violet cast. Yellow, papaya-scented flowers to 1 ft. long appear in late summer. Clump forming.
'Maui Gold'. Glossy, lime green leaves form a tight clump to 4 ft. high.
'Mojito'. Bright green leaves marked with dark purple flecks throughout. No two leaves are alike. Forms a 3 ft. clump.
'Illustris'. Charcoal-black, 8-in. leaves with glowing green veins. Grows to 3 ft. tall, 4 ft. wide; spreads slowly in heavy soil, more quickly in loose, rich, wet soil. Good in containers. Hardy to 0F.
'Nancy's Revenge'. Huge, 25-in.-long, bright green leaves with creamy centers radiating out into the veins. Grows 6 ft. high.
'Puckered Up'. Dark chocolate, rippled, glossy leaves with chocolate stems.
'Ruffles'. Green, 3-ft. leaves with ruffled edges. Forms a 6-ft. clump.
'Thai Giant'. Huge, gray-green leaves are up to 5 ft. long, 4 ft. wide. Large plant can reach 9 ft. high.
'White Lava'. Large glossy green leaves with creamy center radiating out into the veins with a purple spot on each leaf where it attaches to the stalk. 3-ft.-tall clump.
Choose a planting spot protected from strong wind, which tears leaves. Plant in soil enriched with lots of organic matter, and be sure to provide plenty of moisture (plants thrive in boggy conditions or even standing water). Set tubers about 2 in. deep and 11 ft. apart. Plants grow rapidly in hot, rainy weather, especially when given light applications of fertilizer monthly during growth. Tubers are hardy in the Lower, Coastal, and Tropical South; tops die to the ground with the first frost, then reappear in spring. Elsewhere, dig tubers in fall and store them over winter.