(Colocasia esculenta) Who's hungry? If your eyes have glazed over waiting for The Man to drop food in your mouth, then you'll want to know all about the huge, ugly tuber this cute, little girl is holding. It's the thing elephant's ears grow from. Most gardeners grow elephant's ears for their gigantic, heart-shaped leaves which can easily reach 3 feet long. They like sun or part sun, moist soil (they'll even grow in standing water), and are hardy planted in the ground down to about 15 degrees. Now's the time to buy tubers at garden centers. The bigger the tuber you get, the bigger a plant you'll get this summer.
In many places around the ground, the tuber is used for food. It's poisonous when eaten raw (pity the dope who discovered this), but not when boiled, steamed, or otherwise thoroughly cooked. In South Korea, they stir-fry it; in Vietnam, they put it in spring rolls; and in Hawaii, they turn the starchy root into a staple food called poi. I tried poi once and it tasted like Elmer's Glue. I think "poi" is the sound most people make when spitting the stuff out.
Where to Buy Elephant's Ears Fortunately, you don't have to book passage to Vietnam to buy the plain green elephant's ears. You can get them at just about any garden or home center. ‘Black Magic,' a really cool kind, is widely available too. You can tell it's cool, because they plant it at shopping malls, the uncontested arbiters of good taste. ‘Black Magic' grows 4 to 5 feet high with solid, purple-black leaves. Combine it with yellow or orange flowers or golden or chartreuse foliage to show your neighbors who's the real taste-maker on the block. IT'S YOU AND YOU'RE AWESOME, BABY!
But for some really, really cool kinds, I recommend this mail-order nursery: Plant Delights (www.plantdelights.com). Here are a few of the dozens of kinds owner Tony Avent carries:
• ‘Coal Miner' – black leaves with olive-green veins, 4 feet tall • ‘Nancy's Revenge' – light-green leaves with a creamy-yellow burst in the center, 6 feet tall • ‘Rhubarb' – green leaves with brilliant red stems, 4 feet tall • ‘Thailand Giant Strain' – gi-normous, blue-green leaves 5 feet long and 4 feet wide, 9 feet tall The plants aren't cheap – Tony charges a premium price for his stuff -- but most elephant's ears multiply rapidly and get at big as your mother-in-law after a week of pancake dinners. So splurge already. (Tony, you can send me my check now.)
Need more advice for your garden? Subscribe to the Grumpy Gardener.