By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
One of the most widely grown food crops is an elephant ear. This is known as taro, but there are numerous varieties of the plant, Colocasia, many of which are simply ornamental. Elephant ears are often grown for their huge, robust foliage. There are also diseases of elephant ear that can cause crown and root rot. If your plant has any of the following elephant ear disease symptoms, you may have a diseased Colocasia. Read further to find out how to handle elephant ear plant disease.
If you have a Colocasia, you probably know that they are not at all frost tolerant, require regular, even water and a full sun location. These large-leaved plants can grow quite quickly and their production of leaves is prolific. Although they need plenty of water, they can develop problems in standing water or if they are allowed to dry out for long periods of time. Diseased elephant ear plants may be suffering from cultural problems or they may actually have a pathogen or insect issue.
You may always know when your children are ailing, but sometimes it can be difficult to see if a plant is feeling poorly until it is too late. Many signs that it isn’t feeling well will be showing on the leaves. For instance:
Deciphering elephant ear disease symptoms can be confusing but just start with the most obvious cultural conditions and if those are not the problem, move on to possible fungal, viral or bacterial issues.
The most common elephant ear plant disease is fungal leaf blight. It produces tiny round lesions on the ornamental leaves that may ooze fluid and turn purple or yellow when dry. When the fungus is in full bloom, there is also fuzzy growth. Over time the entire leaf collapses on itself and the disease travels down the corm.
Phyllosticta leaf spot is another very common problem in elephant ears. It is not life threatening but does mar the leaf appearance with numerous holes. Each starts as a brown lesion that then dries up and falls out of the leaf. Tiny black fruiting bodies are also observed.
Pythium rot can cause plants to die. It is most common in areas with too much water and humidity.
Fungal diseases respond well to a foliar application of copper fungicide. Spray on plants when they are at least 4 weeks old and apply weekly in rainy weather and bi-weekly in drier periods. Avoid overhead watering to prevent consistently wet leaves.
To prevent Pythium rot, use good sanitation practices and use pure irrigation water. Once plants are infected, it is too late to save them. Seedlings are the ones that most often get the disease. Fortunately, this disease is most prevalent in regions where there is high humidity and extreme heat. Provide plenty of ventilation to indoor plants and be careful with watering to prevent any disease.
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Read more about Elephant Ear
Elephant ears (Alocasia, Colocasia, and Xanthosoma spp., according to the University of Florida Gardening Solutions) are aptly named with their distinctive, heart-shaped leaves that can reach up to 5 feet across. Due to the immense size of the foliage the visibility of any flaws, such as alocasia tips turning brown, is magnified. It is important to find the reason for the browning and correct the problem before too many leaves are affected. The perennial elephant ears grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension.
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Here’s a puzzle for you: what plant is toxic, yet serves as a major food source for many countries in Asia? The answer: Colocasia, also known as elephant ear or taro. In many parts of the world, taro is a major food crop for both people and farm animals. The plant is traditionally served at Hawaiian luaus and the corms form the basis for poi, a favorite Hawaiian dish.
Yet, elephant ears contain calcium oxalate, or oxalic acid, the same toxin found in rhubarb and Dieffenbachia leaves. This chemical compound contains sharp crystals that can cause serious illness and even in death if consumed in large amounts.
So, what’s going on here? How can a poisonous plant provide food for people all over the world? First, the plant is always eaten cooked, rather than raw. Cooking it breaks down the crystals, rendering them harmless. Additionally, some species are more toxic than others and the plants used as a food source are not necessarily the same varieties found in your yard.
Although elephant ears are not as toxic as Dieffenbachia, it’s a good idea to be careful, especially if you have young children or pets. The leaves and stems are the most toxic parts of the plants. Even touching them can cause skin irritation and itching, and if you get the sap in your eyes, your eyes will sting and burn for several hours.
If your child or pet ingests the leaves, the first symptoms are a tingly or burning feeling in the mouth or lips. Elephant ear poisoning is rarely fatal, unless large amounts are eaten. Below are some of the other symptoms associated with this plant:
If you suspect your child has ingested elephant ear leaves, call your local poison control center or the national poison control hotline at 1-800-222-1222. Don’t force vomiting, but keep your child calm and wipe out her mouth with a cool, wet cloth. Flush the eyes with water if they’re stinging. If your child’s lips or mouth begin to swell, call 9-1-1 or head to the nearest emergency room. If your pet eats elephant ears, contact your vet right away.
If you love elephant ear plants, but you’ve got young children or pets, you might try a few strategies to prevent accidental poisoning. First, place the plants where they’re out of reach. Grow the plants in the front yard, rather than the backyard, where children and pets are more likely to play. Teach your kids not to touch or eat any plant in the yard. Another option would be to grow smaller varieties of elephant plants in hanging containers. Just be sure to remove any fallen leaves promptly!
Sometimes it’s better to err on the side of caution. If you’re worried about your child’s or pet’s safety, replace elephant ears with non-toxic substitutes. Many other plants will give you the feel of the tropics, but are perfectly safe for children and pets. Below are a few to try:
Plants and Pets Non-toxic Listings from Blue Mountain Humane Society
Some Plants Are Poisonous from Purdue University Consumer Horticulture
Hey can Elephant ears cause yeast infection in dogs
i touched an elephant ear plant it was hurting my hands i had to lay it on my van and i was 11 and now im 12 btws it was my moms car
There are several types as far I know, some are eatable, some not
I grew up in Brazil and I know all about it.
Taioba is the portuguese from Brazil name of the eatable leaf
Inhame is the portuguese name of eatable root only,however there’s another type of inhame that also non eatable.
A farm person that grew up knows the difference or a biologist, don’t even try to eat because the leaves are very similar.
You are right Gil. Taro should also have been mentioned. Not too many people reply to questions here.
Is it safe to plant elephant ear plant with my other vegetable plants that we commune?
Try YouTube if you haven’t already gotten an answer and are still interested. Lots of info on that and Taro which looks similar.
Zeke Iiams says
I ate some yesterday raw and my tounge still hurts
mike okumura says
hi, yes, my parents used to, i believe when i was young, cut the elephant ear stems and strip the skins off, then cut the stems into chunks and put them into a vinegar solution, then massaged the stems well in it. then we ate them like kimchee pickles w/ our main dishes. i don’t think i remembered wrong, but plz correct me, if not. lol [lots of love] thx
faye anderson says
I cut some elephant ears down with the weed eater and the sap, liquid in stalk, flew all over me. I had no idea the sap would make me itch like this. This was yesterday evening and that’s been about 30 hours ago. I have itched all day, I even went to the drug store and spoke with the pharacist about what I should do and the best meds for the itching. So far, Nothing is working and it is driving me crazy! It must have gotten all over my body. I even itch between my toes and I had shoes on. My feet, hands, legs, between my boobs, everything and everywhere itches. Help!
Helaine Moyse says
I’m in thesameboat.
Didn’t wear gloves.
Itching like crazy.
Ginny Holway says
me too. mine only lasted about an hour. my husband suggested washing my hands with fast orange hand cleaner and hot soapy water. Seemed to work for me.
IraDale Lee Kelley says
When I was 3 ieat a large amount of leafs it’s like drinking hot glass it does have side side effects and binaeffects I still suffer today
I had the same thing hapened to me. Within 10 minutes, the toxic oil from the stems itched and burned my arms and hands and i started feeling my fingers numb. I went to ER and had prednisone. Only steroid can relieve your symptoms. Good luck
Apple cider vinegar Will stop the itch
Crystal Plummer says
Sorry that happen to u but this had me crying laugh my husband told me about this happen to him and I couldn’t believe it so this lead me to this…
A friend suggested my grandson drink milk to stop the burning/itching of his tongue… Also suggested was to rub the inside of an avocado on your skin… The oil helps with the itching…
I thought I had been bitten by Fire Ants. Feels the same.
Hydrocortisone cream helps some.
But it seems the main thing to minimize the burning/itching is to not flex my hands or rub my skin.
If I leave it alone the itch almost stops.
Gotta remember to NOT rub my eyes!
Think I’ll go grab a beer and sit in front of the TV.
Dee Dee King says
I had same thing happen, cut them off to mulch for winter and OMG. I COULDNT BELIVE THE ITCH Both hands in between my fingers was the worst, liquid Benadryl seem to help the best ! Good luck
Ron Durham says
Hey I cut down a huge one, then dug it up for restarting somewhere else. I thought, all this green material should make for good compost. So I took the wheelbarrow full to my garden. Began cutting each one into little chunks with a butcher knife. About an hour into it, I was covered with the juice on my left hand. Thought it was water like. Then it began to itch… really bad. I took a Benadryl 50mg i had for bee stings. That helped a lot.
Will this stuff compost well? It should. Sure hope so because I sowed a lot into my garden also.
Tammie Pearson says
I have a toy poodle that has calcium oxalate stones. In my front yard there are some plants that look like elephant ears. Dozen and dozens of them. My poodle have came close to renal failure several times. I have takin him to several vets and all have the same answer. They do not know was is causing the stones(calcium oxlate). I just read a article on this site that says some type of elephant ears has calcium oxlate Crystal’s. Did I just find my answer to Jesse ston crystal problem? Please answer if you know the answer..
sandra kay reynolds says
My 3 year old cousin just ate off the elephant ear plant and he is screaming that his mouth an throat is burning. He’s not saying that he’s itching. He’s been given cold water and milk. Nothing is working! His mom is taking him to the ER. What could she have done to stop the burning. And is this plant poison to eat?
Angela Gorman says
I had no idea about this poison on them and went into a far to pull up all the plants and had the elephant are all over me I was suffering big time the only relief I got was bathing in a very hot half cup of bleach 10 cm of water. You instantly feel the relief from the itching it’s like a really relaxing Spa bat so you know it feel better that is where I recommend because I haven’t had a problem since
I got some on my hands and ingested some.now my throat is irritated.
I got some on my hands and ingested some.now my throat is irritated.
Well I’m sitting here using talk to text because both of my hard are inflamed and horribly painful to touch or move. It’s an AWFUL stinging sensation that has me almost in tears. All I did was cut off a few stems/leave and of course was not wearing gloves. I had NO idea that they caused such intense pain.
Rubye Mills says
Yes they do. After the flower which is like a peace lily flower it has a seed head with about 50 beautiful red seeds on it. They are about the size of pepper corns. At least my are red.
Yes! They look similar to a peace lily flower and they produce a red berry cluster of seeds it happened to my twenty year old giant elephant ears twice. I must say I never knew about the intense itching until I was cleaning it up from frost. Yikes
Ethan Sides says
I f*** ate the stem thinking that it looked like celery My throat fells like a wasp bite I hate my life right now
I thought it looked like celery too. I only took 1 bite yesterday and still feel it.
My Korean neighbor asked me if she could cut my elephant ears down to cook a Korean dish for me to try. I said no. Instead she pickled rashishes and gave it to me to eat. I ate one and ended up in the emergency room twice. She poisoned me. I lost seventy pounds and was at death door. We have an order of protection against her. The police detective in Nashville TN are not doing a thing. She says my Husband is her #2 husband. I think she is a dellusional psychpath. She kept calling our home which violated the order of protection so we are hoping the Judge sentences her to jail. All I have to say is be very careful.
It took me 3 years to talk after eating a lot when I was 3 years old I should not be alive now I am 54 years old
Erin Unruh says
I had no idea that these plants were toxic. I’ve had them both in my garden and in my house for YEARS with my family in close proximity with no problems until a curious 4 year old wanted to see what was inside the stem.
Within 10 minutes or less our hands were on FIRE.
Remove all clothing and get into the tub, and as painful as it will be, SCRUB with soap and water. Then do it again. Apply a hydrocortisone cream, or other topical analgesic to the areas that you can.
Ice packs also helped out to get the sting to subside.
This is terrible and if you have someone or a pet that has EATEN this, do not delay, GO TO THE E.R.
Is not elephant ear and taro different? I see pictures of both on here? Taro is very edible. Tubers are like potato and are used in many cultures. Elephant needs more process to be edible than taro that is cooked and strained then used. Where the button on the leave is, is one identification to which is which.
No sooner did i finish weed wacking and mowing over invasive elephant ears i started feeling pain in jaw like a tooth going bad. Spread to areas like ears and throat and pain when taking deep breaths. Havent read of symptoms like that but cant explain what was happening.
Did you get a reply because I am concerned my child ate some 3 days ago and still complains about tightness on his throat should I be concerned any one had this experience befor
Waqar khan says
Hi please help my cow eat elephant ear plant what are the traditional way to cure.
The water off the elephant ear got into my eye what should I do it wont stop burning?
Allisom Cortimilia says
Are youn referring to the weeping water? If so, I’m sorry this happened to you but you also may have solved my dogs mystery.
Please let me know if this was the weeping water
Andrew Never Bite Again says
You just gotta wait it out. 1.5 days
Can anybody clarify if the pooled (on deck) weeping water is toxic. Clearly the leaves are..
(although I’ve touched them and not experienced anything bad.)
Has anybody experienced their dog drinking from pooled elephant ear weeping water on the ground? As well as licking a leave?
My dog had a very crazy incident Sunday and I’m trying to figure out from what. I had no idea one of my favorite summer potted plants were toxic until yesterday.
I’m now wondering if this is what caused her incident.
Im too embarrassed to tell my mom i got the urge to bite the large plant cus i felt like a dino. Dino part aside its still dumb and im so embarrassed. I refuse to go to the hospital since i didnt ingest it, but im gurgling cold almond milk. After the first few chews i thought it was good enough to put in a salad, and then suddenly it started to bite me back and i almost vomited. Nothing is helping with the stinging.