Big Leaves!

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'.

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