(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 21, 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.)
A wave to the future
My first experience with the genus Alocasia was during my college years. Before those far-off days, my only experiences with the larger Alocasia plants were when I saw them in pictures. My first Alocasia plant was Alocasia gageana, or what was known then in south Florida as "Alocasia California". I saw this plant at the University of Florida and obtained a pup at that time to grow for myself. At that time, I had never seen a specimen of Alocasia portei, for if I had, it would surely have blown my mind.
Once I settled in south Florida, I stopped at a mall one day where a plant sale was going on. One lady there was selling some Alocasia plants along with other desirable specimens. That was when I saw my first little Alocasia portei, and that was the beginning of an exploration that continues to this day. That plant became the original parent to the hybrid Alocasia now known as Alocasia x portora (see thumbnail picture at right).
Back then, I did not have too much in the way of funds, so as I learned of other rare aroids, I also learned that obtaining some of them was far out of my budget. Likewise, traveling to distant lands to discover new and exotic plants that I could trade with was not financially feasible either. So I conceived the idea of trying to produce new and exotic plants via hybridization. If I succeeded, I would then have something with which to trade for the rare plants I desired.
You ever looked back in the files of your mind and wonder how you managed to accomplish some things you did when you were so naive? Well, that's the feeling I get when I recall how little practical knowledge I had about growing plants back then. I marvel at the specimens I was able to grow without really knowing what I was doing. I managed to grow that little A. portei up to such a large size that it bloomed for me. By that time, I had obtained a few other Alocasia species, including A. odora, and serendipitously, that plant was in bloom at the same time. Observation showed me that the pollen was not shed right away, but after the bloom had been open a day or so. Consequently, I proceeded to try my hand at seeing if I could get something to happen. And happen it did; the pollen from A. portei placed on the pistils of A. odora yielded fruit and more than 30 viable seeds. This cross did not work in the other direction; i.e., the pollen from A. odora did not yield seeds when placed on the pistils of A. portei
More there than what you've seen
I found that I had produced not just one new plant, but an abundance of them! Each one showed distinctive characteristics, but they arranged informally into two groups; the "portora green" and the "portora red". I named them like that because the red one had maroon to reddish main veins and petioles, while the other was all green. To be sure, there was some intermediate types having a faint mottling in the petioles, and the red ones varied as to how much "red" they showed. The plant that was eventually put into tissue culture (not by me, nor was it my selection, though) was one of the Portora Red plants. I still have a couple of the Portora Green types, which tend to grow larger and beefier than the others. For additional information about this hybrid, click on Alocasia x portora.
Color wasn't the only characteristic that distinguished these plants, as some had more ruffly leaf edges than others, and some were thicker or stockier overall. One of my objectives in doing this cross was to produce a hardier, more interesting large Alocasia that could be used in south Florida landscaping. Indeed, the hybrids did prove to be easier to grow, and hardier than, A. portei (picture above, left). A. odora (see picture at right) was never an issue because that plant is where I hoped to obtain the enhanced hardiness of the hybrids.
The black and white shots included in this article are the actual parent plants used in producing Alocasia x portora. I do not have these original plants any longer, although I have similar ones that I continue to use in crosses. So here I've shown you the actual origin of Alocasia x portora, which is also known by the incorrect names of "portodora", "portadora" and "portidora".
I've since produced several other variations on Alocasia x portora. A few are the "dwarf portora" or Alocasia gageana x A. portei and the "Blue Portora", or Alocasia odora 'Azurea' x Alocasia portei.
Photo credit: LariAnn Garner, Aroidia Research