Photo by Melody

The Jewel Alocasias - Spotlight on two little-known Jewels

By LariAnn Garner (LariAnnJune 29, 2011

The plants featured in this article are quite desirable, but much less familiar to the Alocasia enthusiast. They are also likely to be more difficult to find. Those facts notwithstanding, each of these plants deserves to be more widely grown and appreciated.

Gardening picture (Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 2, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)  

Peltate - extreme!

Jewel Alocasias often produce young leaves with peltate characteristics, but many of them will grow on to produce mature non-peltate leaves. Alocasia chaii, however, is a true peltate Alocasia in that it continues to produce this type of leaf even when mature enough for blooming (see thumbnail picture at right). The leaves are noticeably thick and the major veins are somewhat depressed into the leaf blade. One can see from the overall look and feel of the plant that it must have affinities to A. villeneuvii. The very light green leaf undersides and the little dark red spots and circles on the undersides of the leaves and on the petioles are almost exactly the same as are seen on A. villeneuvii. Alocasia chaii leafIn fact this plant is considered to be a member of the same group.

Inflorescences on this plant are similar in size and overall morphology to those on A. rugosa. As a hybridizer, I imagine that seedlings produced from a cross between A. villeneuvii and A. rugosa would show a number of similarities to A. chaii

As is true with other thick-leaved Jewels, the successful grower will keep the soil medium well draining and on the dryish side. These plants crave warmth and will decline rapidly if the temperatures are too cool. A. chaii petioles tend to curve towards the soil, so I recommend growing this one in no larger a pot than 6 inches. This way the leaves won't get pushed into the soil.

Beautiful and Charming

Alocasia venusta is quite different in overall appearance from other Jewels I've discussed (see picture below). The leaves have a stiff feel to them, are unusually long and narrow on thin petioles, and somewhat canoe-shaped. Inflorescences on this plant indicate that a relationship with A. reversa exists, as their morphology shows similarities. This is true even though the two plants are separated, or disjunct, geographically. Leaves on this Venus of the Jewels have dark green upper surfaces, with even darker green around the main vein areas, while the undersides of the leaves are a paler shade of green. You'll also notice that they are somewhat puckered between the main veins. The texture and thickness of these leaves is similar to those on A. reversa.

Alocasia venusta

While A. reversa hails from southwestern Sarawak, these plants are found only in the Niah Caves area of northern Sarawak, and are lithophytic on limestone there. A lithophyte is a plant that grows on rock, so this plant has that tendency. Such a habitat indicates a need for above-average root aeration, freedom from constant wetness, and a soil medium on the alkaline side.

Alocasia venusta leaves

A. venusta appreciates bright light and moderate fertilization during the growing period, which for places other than the tropics is going to be summertime.

The going gets even tougher . . .

Many other Jewels can be found among the genus Alocasia, such as Alocasia micholitziana, one variety of which is known as 'Frydek'. This plant has bold white main veins on a velvety looking broad arrowhead shaped leaf. The type specimen of this species has much narrower leaves and slightly mottled petioles; it is rather difficult to find and even more so to grow. Another interesting one is Alocasia bullata, the "King of Pucker", having leaves that are so bullate as to be almost bubbled. The leaves are a darker shiny green and the plant is a small grower, but extremely finicky. I've never been fortunate enough to grow one to blooming maturity.

The links above for 'Frydek' and A. bullata take you to Agristarts pages; you can see many of the Jewels on the Agristarts main Alocasia page. Even more Jewels can be viewed at the Malesiana Tropicals Alocasia page. Their selection changes from season to season.

Some desirable species of Alocasia grow much larger than the Jewel types, but have the same or similar cultural requirements. For example, the plant with the largest undivided leaf in the plant kingdom, A. robusta, is at least as finicky as the most finicky Jewels, and maybe even more so. Another group of three Alocasias that may actually be varieties of one species, A. zebrina, A. tigrina, and A. reticulata, are also as demanding of special care as the Jewels. These are much larger growers than the little gems I've shown you, but as with all Jewels, you can still lose them at a frighteningly fast and irreversible pace if you are not attentive to their needs.

Photo credit: LariAnn Garner, Aroidia Research

  About LariAnn Garner  
LariAnn GarnerLariAnn has been gardening and working with plants since her teenage years growing up in Maryland. Her intense interest in plants led her to college at the University of Florida, where she obtained her Bachelor's degree in Botany and Master of Agriculture in Plant Physiology. In the late 1970s she began hybridizing Alocasias, and that work has expanded to Philodendrons, Anthuriums, and Caladiums as well. She lives in south Florida with her partner and son and is research director at Aroidia Research, her privately funded organization devoted to the study and breeding of new, hardier, and more interesting aroid plants.

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