Make Way for the Imperial Ruler
As recently as the early 1980s, this plant had not yet been described and named scientifically, and was not available on the market. Back then it was known as "Alocasia guttata 'imperialis'". David Burnett, in Australia, mentioned this plant in his monograph, The Cultivated Alocasia (Aroideana, Vol 7, Nos. 3 and 4), and later wrote me to share that he had obtained a small quantity of them. At that time, he wanted to ship some to me so that I could grow them out for him. If this plan had come to fruition and the plants survived, they would surely have commanded very high prices amongst collectors. Unfortunately, a short time thereafter, hurricane Andrew blew through and my work with aroids was altered drastically, ceasing for a number of years. I never forgot about this plant, though, but I was also naive at that time and didn't know the trials and pitfalls of growing Jewel Alocasias.
This Imperial Jewel seems to combine the desirable characteristics of several of the others, having thick leaves, darkly colored main vein areas, wine-red leaf undersides, red spotting on the petioles, a bluish-gray overall appearance, and an extraordinary finicky nature. A. nebula, as the species, is variable; one of the Jewels I discussed in a previous article, A. nebula 'Elaine', has affinities to this Imperial Jewel. 'Elaine', though, seems to be a bit easier to grow and more apt to regrow after having apparently died back, at least in my experience.
How to Please your Regal Resident
In Spring of 2007, I had the opportunity to obtain two different types of A. nebula 'Imperialis'. One came from AgriStarts (see thumbnail picture above) and the other, known as A. nebula 'Balun', originated with Malesiana Tropicals (see picture below, left). When these plants are young, the leaves are peltate, but on maturing, the leaves lose the peltate characteristic. They don't grow very large, in keeping with other Jewels, although a group or colony of them in a pot may become 18 to 20 inches in diameter overall. As far as care is concerned, both types I have grew very well for me in a greenhouse, planted in air-pots with well draining media and bright light during the summer of 2007, but as the weather cooled, so did these plants. This winter, I thought I had lost most of them, so in Spring I unpotted them and repotted in fresh, very well draining media. To my delight and surprise, all the corms I found, as well as the larger original plants, are throwing new leaves.
The Imperial Jewel prefers soil on the acid side, and has little tolerance for wet, or even too moist, feet. Thick leaves are the clue that periodic drying is part of the normal environment for this plant. But by "drying", I mean that the water drains away quickly, leaving soil that is moderately moist but certainly not wet. These plants don't like to dry out completely; they just need to stay "dryish". I know that this is a paradoxical state for soil to be in, moist but not moist, dry but not dry, but such is the temperament of the Imperial Jewel.
Use every trick in the book . . .
I did everything I know to keep these plants happy, applying RootShield, Companion, Plant Activator and several other biological agents to keep rot and other pathogens at bay. Some pests to watch for on these are mealybugs, aphids and mites. My Jewels seemed to attract a vigorous group of mealybugs that decided my plants were luxury accommodations for them. I didn't agree, but wanted to avoid spraying, so I squished each beastie and washed them off the leaves using my trusty Fogg-It nozzle. The trick is to avoid getting the soil too wet while doing the procedure.
Fertilization is also very tricky, as too much will burn the roots, and too little will cause the plants to languish. Finally, I settled on a 1/4 strength Miracle Gro solution about once every two weeks in the growing season, and no more than once per month in the winter. You can also try incorporating Dynamite fertilizer into your soil mix, but just be sure you don't use too much.
Caring for Imperial Jewels may seem like a lot of trouble, but I'm sure you'll agree that their beauty makes all that work worthwhile. My next job, however, is to get mine to bloom at the same time as my A. odora. Who says royalty can't mingle with commoners?
Photo credit: LariAnn Garner, Aroidia Research