Copper and . . .
Many of the Jewel Alocasias have leaves that are almost completely peltate, or with leaf tissue surrounding the point where the petiole attaches to the leaf. This Coppery Jewel shows this characteristic even more so than the others. Some leaves on particular plants are nearly circular, with the petiole attaching almost at the center of the leaf (see picture below, left). Compare that one with the leaf pictured in the thumbnail at right, which is more characteristically oval, or ovate, in shape. This shape is the most common one to be found on these plants.
Alocasia cuprea has been available to plant fanciers for much longer than some of the other Jewel Alocasias. I believe this plant was once much more sought after than it is today, partly because in the late 1800's in Europe, plants such as this one were in great demand. A number of Alocasia hybrids were produced at that time and a few of them involved this plant. I have my suspicions (and some evidence) that a variety of A. cuprea may have served as one parent in a hybrid that resulted in the Alocasia known today as A. wentii.
The Coppery Jewel is from Borneo, endemic to Sabah, and found on slopes in a variety of soil substrates, though it is not very common in the wild. The fact that it is found on slopes is a clue to the cultural requirements of this plant. The native habitat suggests a well-drained medium and freedom from overly moist or wet soil.
From Copper to Green
Alocasia cuprea comes in several varieties or cultivars; the "type specimen", as it were, is the type with the pronounced coppery leaves. Another variety is almost devoid of the coppery color and has fewer main veins per leaf, but holds many more leaves at a time per plant. I have both of these and they are easily distinguishable. The one with the coppery leaves has inflorescences consisting of wine-red spathes and creamy white spadices, while the other, greener, type has inflorescences with green spathes and creamy white spadices. One particularly desirable type has leaves of such deep red as to be almost black, but I've never seen this particular variety offered for sale.
Another plant, known as "green cuprea" or "green shield" is available on the market. "Green cuprea" is a paradoxical name that has no accuracy as far as relationship to A. cuprea is concerned. The "green cuprea" is not a sport or cultivar of A. cuprea but is actually a species in its own right, A. clypeolata, and having no reddish or coppery coloration at all. A. clypeolata, while a desirable plant in itself, resembles the Coppery Jewel only in the peltate leaf shape and in regards to the darker green areas along the main veins of the bright green leaves.
While not as finicky or delicate as some of the other Jewels, A. cuprea does require some special care. If allowed to get too dry, it may go dormant, and seems to grow better with temperatures slightly cooler than those which the other Jewels insist on. Of course, when discussing Jewel Alocasias, "cool" is a relative term indeed, as it means simply that temperatures in the lower 80s F are preferable to those in the upper 80s F or higher! Plenty of aeration to the root zone, light to moderate fertilization during the most active growth period and allowing the soil to dry a bit between waterings are tips that will serve you well in your efforts to keep your A. cuprea happy and growing.
A more mature specimen of the coppery variety can be seen in the picture at right. Note the base of an inflorescence just visible at the right edge of the leaf portion showing at the left side of the picture.
Photo credit: LariAnn Garner, Aroidia Research