I do not have space for more plants, but that doesn’t stop me from scrolling endlessly through online catalogues and filling my head full of wild dreams. Most of it gets no further than that, but some things find their way into the basket, like the three huge taro corms that arrived one day. Each one is the size of a large grapefruit and packed with the promise of giant leaves to come.
Taro, Colocasia esculenta, is one of the earliest known vegetables. It has a huge, round, starchy corm, similar to a sweet potato, and is a staple around the globe, from Māori culture to Africa and south Asia.
In the UK, however, it is more likely to be grown as an ornamental plant, in part because our cooler climate doesn’t lend itself to huge corms. (Though, in fairness, smaller corms are just as delightful to eat – they are often used in Japanese cuisine – as are the young leaves and stems, once they are cooked.)
I am as interested in eating this plant as I am at looking at its huge, heart-shaped green leaves, affectionately known as elephant ears. It certainly lends a tropical air to a planting scheme, and one of the best things about it is it doesn’t need full sun. If your space basks in the sun, then the best spot is actually in a pond, where it can keep its feet damp. If you don’t have bog-like conditions, it will do well in dappled shade in rich, almost decadent soils, particularly if you want big leaves.
Now that the frost has finally passed, I can plant out my corms. It is not always easy to tell the right way up, so remember: the concentric rings are at the top. Taro are not frost hardy and need night-time temperatures above 10C. Thus it’s easiest to think of them much like dahlias. They’ll need to be dug up and stored for the winter. They make very good pot plants, which is the other solution if your most sheltered, warmest spot is a shady patio or side return. If you are growing your plant in a pot with a deep saucer, give it the largest one you can find because the more food and moisture it has, the bigger the leaves will grow.
There are many ornamental varieties on the market: these have not been bred to eat, but rather for their fantastic leaves, such as the contrasting black and green marking of Colocasia esculenta ‘Aloha’, ‘Mojito’ and ‘Blue Hawaii’ or, for something more dramatic, the pure black leaves of ‘Black Magic’ and ‘Black Coral’. It is late in the game to be buying corms, but there will still be some kicking around, maybe on sale. However, you can get potted plants in growth from about £15.