If you can keep this one alive. . .
In my recent coverage of the Jewel Alocasias, I have mentioned those aspects of culture that you need to pay particular attention to if you wish to keep these beauties alive. With Alocasia villeneuvii, you are faced with a true challenge. This particular Jewel was, I believe, the first of the thick-leaved Alocasia plants that I ever attempted to grow. At that time (quite a few years ago), I had far less experience under my belt, so I thought that I could just treat this plant like all the rest of my Alocasias, and all would be well. At first, my A. villeneuvii plants did well enough to reach blooming size, and then the rains came. I didn't even bring the plants under cover because at that time I was thinking "rainforest" and that these plants would just love the rain. How wrong I was. . .
In retrospect, I had done one thing right without even knowing it, and that was underpotting my plants. These specimens were large enough to be in 6 inch pots, and yet I grew them in 4 inch pots. This helped to keep the soil drier than it would have been in a larger pot. I had not taken notice of the thickness of the leaves. In so doing, I missed the obvious clue indicating the need for an environment where water availability is lower than one would expect in a rain forest setting.
Going back to that fateful day when the rains came, I discovered that my plants contracted a deadly rot within a day of exposure to the heavy rain. I tried to dry them out, but to no avail. Apparently the wet soil was too much of a stress for them to recover from.
Lesson not learned!
Fast-forwarding to about a year ago, I had obtained some young plants of A. villeneuvii for an experiment, and they looked quite robust, with healthy roots. I decided to set a few aside to grow up to a mature size. This time I had more knowledge and experience, as I used a well-draining mix along with air-pots for superior root aeration. One of the plants I grew this way can be seen in the thumbnail photo above and in the photo at left. I kept the plants out of the rain, in a vented greenhouse, so I figured I was going to see abundant success. But I had sown the seeds of failure once I decided to move the plant from a 4 inch air-pot to a 2 gallon air-pot. My reasoning for doing this was that, at the rate this plant was growing, it could use the extra room.
Turns out that this choice was the demise of my A. villeneuvii, just as it was for my large A. reginula. Too much soil mass and not enough roots to keep the media from getting and staying too wet. So my wonderful plant went the way of so many others whose true cultural needs eluded me.
This plant is part of a group that includes A. scabriuscula and A. ridleyi. These plants are endemic to Borneo, and occupy a range of habitats from swampy to well-drained. Their morphology varies from thinly leathery leaves to those so thick as to seem actually succulent. In fact, A. scabriuscula has the appearance of a very large version of A. villeneuvii. In all likelihood, this plant is one of the many variable forms of A. scabriuscula. However, my experience with that plant indicates that it is significantly easier to keep growing than this plant known as A. villeneuvii.
Thicker = Drier
In the final reel, my experience has shown me that any attempt to grow this plant to maturity must include the knowledge that it can never be allowed to stay too moist. This means not only a well-draining soil media, but a smaller than usual pot size and protection from unexpected rain showers. Needs of this type cause me to place this plant securely in the ranks of the Jewel Alocasias.
Oh, and by the way, the plant illustrated above succumbed to rot shortly after the pictures were taken. I've yet to duplicate the "beginner's luck" experience that I shared in the first paragraph of this article!
Photo credit: LariAnn Garner, Aroidia Research