ASK WENDY

Long, rainy season a boon for elephant ear


Elephant ear is tropical and easy to grow, but avoid sharing your plant, and try to pull up any suckers that are spreading.

Courtesy of Wendy Wilber
Published: Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 10:00 a.m.

Q: This year, my elephant ear leaves have been gigantic. Is this from all the rain? Also, a friend of mine told me this was an invasive plant. Is this true?

A: Elephant ear, or Xanthosoma sagiitifoliium, is an old Florida favorite plant. This herbaceous tropical plant will certainly respond to increased moisture, and gardeners all over North Central Florida are reporting huge leaves this summer.

The long rainy season helped to get the leaves to more than 5 feet in length on plants that are reaching 9 feet in height. The leaves of elephant ears are arrow shaped and light green in color.

The petiole of the elephant ear attaches directly to the base of the "v" at the top of the leaf.

These plants are spread by rhizomes and often become out of control and weedy. They have a large underground corm that provides nourishment to the plant, even in drought conditions.

Because of the elephant ears tendency to spread out of control, especially in wetland and shoreline settings, we do not recommend using this plant in the landscape. I know they are tropical and easy to grow, but avoid sharing your plant, and try to pull up any suckers that are spreading. Some alternatives to the old-fashion elephant ears are the Alocasias. These look very similar, but will not spread aggressively. The Alocasia hybrid "Portodora" would be worth a try. Contact the Alachua County Master Gardeners for more information about these and other plants at 955-2402.

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Q: In my young persimmon there is a web of caterpillars. They have eaten almost all the leaves. What are they?

A: These are accurately named fall webworms. This is a moth caterpillar that is usually noticed during late summer and early fall. You can always recognize them by the 1-foot-long web nest they make in the branches of trees. These caterpillars feed en masse, and they protect themselves in dense silken webbing. They are commonly found in pecan, walnut, sweet gum, hickory and persimmon trees.

The fall webworm caterpillars are native to the Southeast. They have between three and four generations per year, so you might even begin to see them in early summer. The pupa, or the cocoon stage, overwinters in the soil of leaf litter beneath the tree.

Although they can completely consume leaves of the branches they are feeding on, very little to no permanent damage is done to the tree. Their host trees are deciduous and are going to lose their leaves later in the fall — the caterpillar just speeds the process along.

Since the caterpillars are not really damaging the trees, the problem is more of aesthetics. If possible, you can knock the nest out of the tree branches and destroy it. If you cannot reach the webworms, just leave them be. For more information about pests in the landscape, go to the UF/IFAS Extension website, www.solutionsforyourlife.com

Wendy Wilber is an extension agent with UF/IFAS. Email her at wlwilber@ifas.ufl.edu.

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