Variegated Elephant Ears

Add some zing to the garden with these bold-leafed beauties.

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'Variegate' is a fast growing Alocasia that can reach more than 3 feet tall.

Aolcasia 'Variegata'

'Variegate' is a fast growing Alocasia that can reach more than 3 feet tall.

Photo by: Photo by Danny Flanders

Photo by Danny Flanders

'Variegate' is a fast growing Alocasia that can reach more than 3 feet tall.

Elephant’s ears are well known as a smart choice when you’re trying to inject a little drama into a planting bed or container garden. But if you really want to put on a show, choose a variety with variegated foliage. The stark contrast between dark green and bright white running through their giant leaves, some that bob and others upright, can be a showstopper – even in the dark of night.

One of the most dramatic variegated elephant’s ears is Alocasia macrorrhiza ‘Variegata’, or ‘Variegated alba’.  It’s prized for its glossy leaves more than 3 feet long that are gorgeously marbled in tones of green, white, and cream, as if an artist painted each one with a brush. Even more unique is the fact that no two leaves are alike – some are highly variegated, others fairly solid in color, and a few others that even unfurl pure white. 

Like most elephant’s ears, the ‘Variegata’ bulb prefers humid conditions, rich well-drained soil, daily watering, and partial shade, though can take full sun. A fast grower, it can reach 6 feet tall and equally as wide, so give it plenty of room. It’s hardy to zone 8 but can be treated as an annual in colder climes.

Here are a few other variegated varieties to consider:

Alocasia ‘Hilo Beauty’: Native to tropical Southeast Asia, this bulb produces a plant reaching 18 to 30 inches tall with beautiful white-blotched and marbled green leaves that point upward.  Hardy to zone 9, it prefers compost-rich soil.

Mickey Mouse Taro, Xanthosoma ‘Albo-marginata’: Like ‘Variegata’, this elephant’s ear has an irregular pattern in variegation, with leaves that start out yellow with a light gray-green.  As the plant grows, reaching up to 6 feet, the green grows darker and the cream whitens for eye-catching contrast. This Taro gets its names because the shape of its leaves resembles the ears of Mickey Mouse. Even more interesting is that the tips of its leaves curl upward forming a tiny pocket. Hardy to zone 7, it tolerates both part shade and sun.

Colocasia elepaio ‘Milky Way’: Originating from Hawaii, where it was bred only for royalty, this elephant’s ear sports milky white variegation that can be as subtle as flecks or as bold as patches – no two leaves alike. Hardy to zone 7, it grows 4 to 6 feet tall. 

Colocasia esculenta nanciana ‘Nancy’s Revenge’: This elephant’s ear is unique in that its variegation consists of a creamy white blotch in the center of its velvety, heart-shaped leaves, which can reach 14 inches long. Native to Polynesia, the plant grows up to 5 feet tall. Hardy to zone 8, it prefers consistent moisture, making it a great addition to a water garden.


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