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The Exotic Rainforest
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New: Understanding, pronouncing and using Botanical terminology, a Glossary

Alocasia cucullata  (Lour.) G. Don
Alocasia cucullata  (Lour.) G. Don, Photo Copyright 2008, Steve Lucas,
Alocasia cucullata  (Lour.) G. Don
Synonym Arum cucullatum
Chinese Taro, Buddha's Palm

Alocasia cucullata, or Chinese Taro, is a small leafed Alocasia sp. known to be from China.  Although commonly called "Buddha's Palm, this species is not related to any palm species and is not a palm. According some sources Alocasia cucullata is claimed to be common to most of Central America, Colombia, Venezuela and parts of Ecuador.  It may certainly have been imported into those countries but is not a native species.  Consultation with experts including botanist Peter Boyce in Singapore indicates Alocasia cucullata is known for certain to have been introduced into numerous Pacific Islands, including Hawaii and now commonly grows in the Caribbean.  But the origin is China or nearby SE Asian countries.  But the true origin of this species has been in question.

Alocasia cucullata, Photo Copyright David Stang, courtesy the Missouri Botanical Garden, www.ExoticRainforest.comAs I often do, my curious mind made me want to know where Alocasia cucullata truly originated.  So I sent an email to aroid botanist Pete Boyce.  Pete came back with this enlightening response, "Alocasia cucullata is widespread in SE China (Yunnan, Guagxi, Guangdong), N Vietnam, Laos, N. Thailand. It is never found away from human disturbance and is most often encountered as a planting around temples where is is meant to bring good luck. It is very possible that it is a stabilized cultigen of A. odora selected for 'magical' properties by animistic hill tribes and now much planted to protect Buddhist temples."    

Alocasia cucullata is not found in Central or South America as a natural species.  It has simply been imported.  It also appears, based on Peter's research and observations, the species is likely a cultivar (hybrid) and does not occur naturally even in its natural range.  This little Alocasia was likely created by man and as a result would be variable.  Alocasia species are known to be highly variable and not every leaf of every specimen will always appear the same.  This link explains in greater detail the scientific principle of natural variation and morphogenesis.  Click here.

With roughly 7 to 8 inch (18cm to 20cm.) leaves  Alocasia cucullata  grows in clumps and is sometimes called an "Elephant Ear".  It appreciates near full sun to partial shade and is extremely easy to grow as long as you keep it's "feet damp".  We found our specimen on a roadside in Homestead, FL in 1999.  Some entrepreneurial spirit had set up a "nursery" in the back of his pick-up on the side of US 1 and offered Chinese Taro and numerous other Alocasia sp. for $5 per large pot.  I've given away quite a number of Alocasia cucullata and have never run out.  They replace themselves quickly.  And this one is not a palm as is implied by one common name!  The photo to the right was taken at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami, FL.

Alocasia cucullata  (Lour.) G. Don, inflorescence with spadix and spadix, Photo Copyright 2010 Steve Lucas, www.ExoticRainforest.comAll Alocasia species are aroids.  An aroid is a plant that reproduces via the production of an inflorescence known to science as a spathe and spadix.  Most people think the spathe is a "flower" which it is not.  The spathe, which in the case of Alocasia cucullata is pale yellow, is only a  modified leaf.  The inflorescence, which is shaped like a tube does contain flowers that are near microscopic in size.  The portion that appears to most growers to be the "flower" is the spathe and inside that is the spadix which somewhat resembles an elongated pine cone. The spadix is simply a spike on a thickened fleshy axis which can produces the tiny flowers.   

If you explore the inflorescence with a magnifying glass when it is ready to be pollinated there are very tiny male flowers found on the exposed spadix while there are sterile male and female flowers found inside the female floral chamber at the base of the spadix.  The female flowers develop and become receptive first followed by the male flowers which then produce pollen.  The job of the sterile male flowers is to produce a pheromone or perfume used to attract a pollinating insect.

When ready to reproduce the spadix produces the flowers unisexually.  A unisexual flower is one that has only one sex and is known as being imperfect.  A perfect flower which is found on some aroid species including Anthurium and Monstera include both sexual parts.  The tiny male flowers produce pollen and the tiny female flowers are designed to be receptive to pollen.  In the case of Alocasia cucullata the plant is capable of self pollination when an insect carries pollen from a male flower to a female flower hidden inside the covering of the floral chamber.  When the plant is pollinated  berries will grow with seeds inside.   You can see the pollen of Alocasia cucullata in the photo below.

Although sometimes called a small "Elephant Ear", that is a poor common name or term to use to describe any plant species.  That term is used to describe plants from numerous genus including Alocasia, Xanthosoma, Philodendron, Anthurium, Caladium, Colocasia and others  Those groups represent thousands of plants!  So when someone describes an "Elephant Ear", the first question would be, which one of the 3.000 species would you like to know about?  Just call it an Alocasia!  That description, even as a common name, is far more descriptive and accurate.

As always, my sincere appreciation to Peter Boyce for his input.

Alocasia cucullata  (Lour.) G. Don, Chinese Taro, inflorescence with pollen, Photo Copyright 2010 Steve Lucas,


Aroid Pollination!
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