Visits to Safeway will never be the same again
after you read this article. by Philip Bell, 22 Marbury Road, Wilmslow, Cheshire,
U.K. Chamaerops No. 5, published online 23-10-2002
If you're interested in something really exotic
for the garden, here is a true tropical plant, which is extremely
easy to grow: Colocasia esculenta -the Taro, a member of the Aroid
family. Confusingly, it is also (incorrectly) known as Colocasia
antiquorum and Caladium esculenta.
But now for the local names. It is known as 'Old
Coco-Yam', 'Eddo' and 'Dasheen 'in the West Indies; 'Taro', 'Gabi'
and 'Colalu' in Tropical America and the Pacific Islands (in Hawaii
and New Zealand it is the main ingredient of 'poi'); in Cuba it
is 'Melanga; in Malaysia - 'Talla'; 'Kachehi' 'Kachu' or 'Arvi'
in India; the Egyptians call it 'Qulgas' and the Sri Lankan names
include 'Kiri-ala', 'Daesi-ala', 'Kandala', 'Sevel-ala' and 'Gahala'.
Colocasia esculenta occurs wild in Burma and Assam,
and has been cultivated in South East Asia for 2,000 years. The
principal centre of cultivation is in Polynesia, where some hundreds
of varieties are grown. Another important area is India, and from
there it spread westwards to Africa during the period of slave trading.
It was brought to the Caribbean by slaves, and is still known by
its African name of 'Eddo', and it is from this area that most imported
tubers come from today. The tubers are an important source of starch
in the diet, as the potato is here. They contain 15-20% carbohydrate,
3% protein and up to 1.7% sugar. The young leaves of some varieties
are eaten as a substitute for spinach.
Commonly called 'Elephant's Ear' (a name applied
to nearly all of the Colocasias), C. esculenta is a very variable
plant. The heart-shaped leaves are up to a metre long. The leaf
stalks are attached to the centre of the leaf blade and stand up
to a metre high with a spread of up to 60cm. The tubers can be from
10cm to 40cm long and up to 20cm thick. The tuber produces subsidiary
tubers, known as 'cormels'.