Colocasia esculenta, also known as Taro or Elephant’s Ear, is a popular food crop commonly grown in small backyard plots, although it is also grown commercially. It is believed to be native to India and Malaysia, but is now found throughout tropical and subtropical regions (Hurteau, 2013). C. esculenta is able to grow in in highly waterlogged soil conditions; it can be successfully grown in standing water up to 15 cm deep (Moore and Lawrence, 2003; Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d.). It grows to a height of 1.8 metres, with large, heart-shaped leaves up to 0.9 metres in length (Hurteau, 2013; Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d.). A taro plant’s leaves grow upward from a central corm. This corm, which may weigh up to 3.6 kg, is also the site of origin for downward-growing roots and laterally-growing stolons, cormels, and daughter corms (Onwueme, 1999).
C. esculenta may grow yellow-white, calla lily-like flowers, although this is quite rare (Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d.). Instead, the plant reproduces primarily through vegetative propagation. Its corms serve as an important reproductive function; side-corms, or ‘cormels,’ stem tubers which grow on the sides of larger corms, can give rise to new shoots after the death of the main plant. Daughter corms can give rise to shoots while the main plant is still alive (Onwueme, 1999).
Taro’s stolons, which grow horizontally along the soil, can also give rise to new plants. Evidence suggests that wild Taro may primarily reproduce sexually with the aid of an insect pollinator, although the plant has been so widely cultivated by humans that it is rather difficult to ascertain whether ‘wild’ populations may in fact be human-dispersed (Hunt et al. 2013).
C. esculenta is widely used as a source of nutrition by people living in tropical regions. The corms are widely used in the production of taro chips and flour, as well as in the Polynesian staple food, poi (Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d.). Taro starch is approximately 98.8% digestible, making it an important ingredient in many canned baby foods. Taro is also a suitable alternative food for those who are sensitive or allergic to cereals or milk (Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d.).
C. esculenta stems and leaves are also edible when prepared properly (often by boiling) and the leaves are used for wrapping food, or even as protection during a rainstorm (Hurteau, 2013; Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d.). Mud from taro patches has been used in Hawaii as a black dye, while juice from the plant’s stems can be used as a red dye (National Tropical Botanical Garden, 2013).
Hunt, H.V., Moots, H.M., & Matthews, P.J. (2013). Genetic data confirms field evidence for natural breeding in a wild taro population (Colocasia esculenta) in northern Queensland, Australia. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution, 60(1), 1695-1707. doi: 10.1007/s10722-012-9952-1
Hurteau, M.D. (2013). Colocasia esculenta- Taro. Retrieved from http://eol.org/pages/1091931/overview
Moore, L.M. & Lawrence, J.H. (2003). Taro: Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott. Retrieved from http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_coes.pdf
Missouri Botanical Garden (n.d.). Colocasia esculenta. Retrieved from http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a442
National Tropical Botanical Garden (2013). Colocasia esculenta. Retrieved from http://www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=3155
Onwueme, I. (1999). Taro Cultivation in Asia and the Pacific. Retrieved from ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/005/ac450e/ac450e00.pdf