(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 19, 2008)
A Caladium from your wildest dreams?
I can only imagine what the discoverer of this plant felt when he or she first saw it. I believe I would have been stunned beyond words, thinking I had stumbled upon, perhaps, the rarest of the rare Alocasia plants. Alocasia sanderiana is practically the archetype of the silver-veined Alocasias, and has another claim to fame as well, because this plant is one of the parents of Alocasia x amazonica. It is also known as the Kris Plant. This particular cultivar, 'Nobilis', shown in the picture at right, has leaves with prominently deep lobes, making it a most desirable specimen.
Until modern tissue culture production made this plant more widely available, you could find it only in collections, and no doubt the plant would have commanded a high price as well.
Next to a quagmire . . .
This species is part of a group known as the "longiloba group", within which are described four species, but also an almost innumerable number of hybrids (both natural and artificial) as well as cultivars and/or varieties. The great bulk of these fall under the broad specific heading of Alocasia longiloba. While A. sanderiana originates on the island of Mindanao, in the Philippines, the problematical A. longiloba complex is distributed in Indochina to west and central Malesia, excluding the Philippines. Sorting the longiloba quagmire out is work for an expert taxonomist, but we need not be concerned with that issue in regards to the Kris Plant.
A. sanderiana grows well under similar conditions as you provide for the other Jewels in your collection. However, it grows larger and faster than they do, so you need to provide fertilizer a bit more frequently when your plant is in active growth. Cool weather will slow the plant down, and if cool enough, will cause this Jewel to go dormant. If your specimen does go dormant on you, withhold water so as to avoid rotting the dormant tuber. Dormant time is an excellent time to change out the soil medium and look for offshoots or corms. The return of warm, humid weather will stimulate your Kris Plant to begin growing again.
This beauty enjoys bright light but not direct sun, warmth in the 80s F in daytime and 70s F night, and high humidity. What this plant does not like is too much moisture in the root zone, so you need to keep yours out of the rain and in a very well draining potting medium. Underpotting is a good idea, as it is with the other Jewels. When this plant is in vigorous growth, your temptation will be to bump it up into a much larger pot in the quest for an ever-larger plant. You will do well to resist this temptation, unless you don't mind losing your Kris Plant!
With careful attention, your Jewel may approach two feet in height, but I've not seen any larger than that. Eventually, it will form a small trunk and corms in the soil. You can try your hand at growing these on so you will have a few extra plants to trade with.
A. sanderiana may surprise you with a few blooms in Spring or Summer. These are not very showy, but in my case I watch carefully for blooms on Alocasia plants because of my hybridization work. In fact, I have produced a large-growing hybrid involving this plant as the pollen parent, but that is a story for another article and another time . . .
Photo credit: LariAnn Garner, Aroidia Research