Tempted by houseplants? Buyer beware

Elephant's ears aka Alocasia x amazonica

Houseplants are trendy. Houseplants are cool. And who wouldn't be tempted by this spectacular Alocasia x amazonica (aka Amazonian elephant's ear) when it's going for a song at their local supermarket? Not I for one.

Luckily I knew what I was getting as I lust after them whenever I see them at a show or in a heated glasshouse. Why lucky? Because there was no care label anywhere to be seen and most of the information out there rates these as Difficult. Later, I checked at several such outlets, then my local DIY store and found exactly the same situation: tons of attractive and tempting houseplants, succulents and cacti... all with zero information to tell the buyer what they are and what to do with them.

In this instance the amazonica in the name is the clue. This is a plant that likes plenty of humidity and warmth. It needs rainwater instead of my limy tapwater and requires misting every day. It's currently around 10 inches in height, so I need to prepare myself for several repottings and a plant that can reach up to four feet. That assumes it likes its new home on the bright windowsill in our bathroom.

So buyer beware. That impulse buy you've just put in your trolley might just give you more work than you've bargained for.

Alocasia or Colocasia? They're from the same family (Araceae aka arum family), have the same common name (elephant's ears), and have similar looks. I did think it was a Colocasia until I came to write this post only to find I have an Alocasia instead.

Unfortunately the guides I've found on how to tell the difference between to two seem to point towards Colocasia as the ID. I'll ask an expert for a more definitive guide when I next see them on display. Watch this space.

RHS Practical Houseplant Book cover
The first gardening book I ever bought was The Houseplant Expert in the early 1980s and it was my well thumbed, go-to guide until I was given a review copy of the marvellous RHS Practical Houseplant Book last year.

Like the supermarket displays, there are tons of attractive plants in lovely pots to drool over. Unlike those displays there are wonderful projects, lots of practical information, and plant profiles of over 170 plants to give you everything you need to start or keep going with having houseplants in your life.

If you want a regular top up of all things houseplant, then I also recommend Jane Perrone's On the Ledge podcast. The link takes you to her getting started guide.


  1. I know someone who once bought a fstsia as a houseplant and was told by the seller that it wouldn’t get much bigger. It’s now in her garden and is at fence height having been cut back several times.

    1. Perhaps the staff at the supermarkets etc need a lot more training. A copy each of that houseplant book for starters...

  2. I was looking at houseplants in Homebase the other day. I googled one that had generic care instructions and found the online information said it was really hard to keep alive, don't even think about growing this unless you're experienced, or words to that effect. What a shame, all those plants destined for the bin.

    1. Good point Hazel, often the generic care labels aren't that helpful either. Since I posted this most of the leaves are dying, with just one healthy one left. A new shoot is just beginning to unfurl and there's another waiting in the wings, so I'm hopeful I've rescued it just in time.

  3. Hope you get fresh healthy leaves soon. Maybe the shock of a new environment?

    1. One new shoot is unfurling nicely. Just as well as it looks like 8 leaves will go. It's down to the plant not being looked after properly whilst at the supermarket, maybe even longer. I'm keeping an eye out for further examples and will complain when necessary.

  4. Excellent advice VP! A cactus in a ceramic pot with the words 'I'm A Survivor' on the pot but no care information recently caught my eye but I wondered whether it would survive and refrained.

    1. I think you'd probably be OK with a cactus Anna, but yes some care instructions would be good! I'm sure there must be some people out there who would water them more frequently than they should and get put off from growing plants.


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