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Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Elephant Ear Plant (Alocasia Macrorrhiza)

A big leaf plant which is endemic to Malaysia, with record of a specimen found in 1966 in Tawau, Sabah with leaf measuring more than 3 m long and 1.9 m wide, hence the common name of Elephant ear.

Malaysians often identify it as a Yam plant and that includes yours truly till now, possibly due to the similar shaped leaves, tubers/corms and toxic qualities when raw. Yams are from the genus Dioscorea, these are perennial herbaceous vines whereby their starchy tubers can be eaten. The elephant ear plant is from the Family Araceae.

The elephant ear plant is fleshy and non-woody, with leaves that are heart shaped often found growing near damp, shady areas with nearby streams or rivers.
Not popularly viewed as a vegetable food plant in Malaysia, they are cultivated in some countries as such for its edible corm and leaves, and are known as Taro in the Hawaiian Islands and Gabi in the Philippines.

Corms are stems that are solid and are unlike bulbs, when a corm is cut in half it is solid, but for a bulb it is made up of layers, an example of a bulb would be onions which when cut with its layers are a bulb.
Although edible, care must be taken to remove the raphid crystals of oxalic acid that causes numbness and swelling of the tongue and pharynx when eaten raw.
Raphides are elongated crystalline form of calcium oxalate found within a plant cell and due to its needle-like form, it is toxic and unpalatable, consuming them would cause severe discomfort and death in some cases. Fortunately, the calcium oxalate can be destroyed with cooking and are thus made edible.

Due to its large leaves and imposing appearance, it is also popular as an ornamental plant, often seen potted, decorating hotel lobbies, gardens, offices and homes.

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