Alocasia Zebrina | Plant Care Guide

alocasia zebrina

Unlike most plants, Alocasia zebrina is not prized for its leaves or flowers. Alocasia zebrina gets its name from its unique brown and white striped stems. These tall stems hold up large, individual arrow-shaped leaves. This is a medium-sized houseplant, with most plants growing to be around 3 feet tall. 

Botanical NameAlocasia zebrina
Common NameElephant Ear
Size3 feet or more
DifficultyDifficult
Pet FriendlyNo. Toxic
Air CleanerYes

Alocasia Zebrina Origin

Alocasia zebrina is a tropical plant from the rainforests of the Philippines. These rainforests are typically at a high elevation and the plants grow on a thin layer of soil over rocky terrain. 

This plant was over-harvested in the wild, so it is now considered rare. However, nurseries can now grow Alocasia zebrina through propagation or tissue cultures, so wild collection is no longer necessary. 

How to Care for Alocasia Zebrina

Alocasia zebrina is fairly easy to care for, although it’s requirements differ slightly from most houseplants. Mainly, this plant enjoys damp, but not wet, soil and may need to be watered more frequently than other plants.

Light and Temperature

Since Alocasia zebrina is accustomed to being grown under the shade of the rainforest canopy, this plant does best in bright, indirect light. It can also tolerate medium light conditions. However, direct sun will burn the leaves and low light will not provide enough sunlight for the plant to survive. 

The large leaves of Alocasia zebrina will orient themselves to the light source (typically a window). Many plant owners recommend rotating the plant every few days to keep the leaves balanced.

While Alocasia zebrina does not need the hot, muggy conditions of the rainforest to thrive, it does enjoy warmer temperatures. Try to keep the location between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The plant can tolerate lower temperatures in winter, which will also trigger the plant to go dormant. 

Temperature swings can stress the sensitive plant, so avoid a location that has drafts or heating elements nearby. 

Water and Humidity

High humidity is recommended for optimal Alocasia zebrina health, although some plants are fine with moderate humidity. A humidifier placed near the plant can help keep the humidity level above the recommended 60%. Browning leaves are a sign that the air around your plant needs more moisture. 

Alocasia zebrina is not drought-tolerant and should not be allowed to dry out between waterings. It is best to water when the top inch of soil is dry. Unlike most houseplants, Alocasia zebrina will actually do better with waterings that are done more frequently but with a lesser amount of water. This is opposite of the usual advice to water thoroughly after allowing the top few inches of soil to dry out. 

In the winter, the plant will be dormant but will still need some water. You can usually cut back to water half as frequently as the growing season. With Alocasia zebrina it is always more important to check the soil instead of the calendar for determining when to water. 

Alocasia zebrina can be sensitive to hard water. It is recommended to use filtered or distilled water if you live in an area with especially hard water. If your water has high amounts of chlorine, you can let it sit out overnight to naturally dechlorinate the water.

Soil and Container

Since Alocasia zebrina prefers to fit tightly in it’s pot, you should use the smallest pot that fits all the roots. A deep pot or a pot made of a heavy material is necessary to prevent the top-heavy plant from tumbling over.

Well-draining soil is extremely important for the proper care of Alocasia zebrina. This heavy-feeding plant needs plenty of organic material, but this soil can pack down over time and stifle root growth. To offset the dense organic soil, include an aerating medium, such as perlite or pumice, in your potting mix. A recommended combination is equal parts compost, peat, and perlite.

Fertilization

Alocasia zebrina is a heavy-feeder that will put out a new leaf every week or two when properly fed and watered. During the growing season (spring/summer), apply a half-dilution of balanced houseplant fertilizer to the plant. You do not need to apply any fertilizer during the dormant winter period.

If you are using a synthetic fertilizer, it is possible that fertilizer salts will build up in the soil. If left untreated, these salts can become toxic to the plant. To prevent affecting the health of your Alocasia zebrina, flush the soil out with running water every couple of months. Allow the soil to drain thoroughly after each flush. 

Flowering

In the late spring, it is possible for Alocasia zebrina to bloom. These flowers are a white spadix wrapped in a spathe. They are generally unimpressive and many enthusiasts will cut off flower stalks to promote leaf growth. 

Pruning

As time goes by, older leaves from Alocasia zebrina will die off and need to be pruned. This is a natural process that frees up energy and resources for new growth. 

If you would prefer to have a smaller plant overall, you can prune off the large, older leaves. Then, place the Alocasia zebrina in very bright, indirect light. Since the higher surface area of large leaves will not be necessary for photosynthesis, the plant should produce smaller leaves.

Repotting

Alocasia zebrina has sensitive roots that will not take well to frequent repotting. It is best to allow your plant to get completely root bound before repotting. Choose a new container that is only slightly larger than the old one.

To repot your Alocasia zebrina, remove the plant from its old pot. Gently shake off some of the old potting mixture. Add a couple of inches of fresh potting mixture to the new pot and place the plant inside. Add potting mixture around the roots and gently tap the pot on a surface. This will help the mixture settle in between the roots without densely packing down. 

Thoroughly water the roots and place the Alocasia zebrina back into the same location where it was housed in the old pot. It is common that the plant will suffer some transfer shock. However, recreating the same care and environment will help to minimize the negative reaction.

Pests

Alocasia zebrina is one of the lucky plants that is not too susceptible to pests (when it is healthy). However, overwatering and dry periods can be especially inviting for unwanted infestations. 

When infestations do occur, they are usually caused by aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, or scales. These sap-suckers will slowly drain the plant of its resources until it cannot survive anymore.

Aphids are small insects that can be green, brown, or black. They reproduce quickly and are usually found on stems and near new growth. Aphids can leave a sticky waste residue, called honeydew, on the plant. This not only attracts other insects, such as ants, but it can lead to sooty mold. 

Mealybugs are small, white insects that look like small cotton fluffs. The adults are fairly easy to spot since they contrast with the plant. Adults can be killed using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, but an insecticidal treatment should be applied to the entire plant to kill off eggs and larvae. 

Spider mites are unique amongst pests because they are typically attracted to dry conditions and under-watered plants. Most other pests are found in humid environments or when plants have been overwatered. Spider mites are so small that it can take a while to discover an infestation. The tell-tale sign of spider mites is thin webbing on the plant and soil. 

Scales are very similar to mealybugs, except they remain in one location on the plant for their adult lives. Scales have hard exoskeletons that make them look like a brown spot on the plant. Just like mealybugs, they can also be killed using rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab. 

To treat any of these pests, apply an insecticidal soap or neem oil to the entire plant. It is important to get the underside of leaves and cover the stem. These treatments need to come in contact with the insects to be fully effective. Some plant owners take the preventative measure of applying neem oil every couple of months to keep infestations at bay. 

Diseases

The two most common diseases that Alocasia zebrina can fall victim to are root rot and leaf spot.

Root rot is caused by excess moisture in the soil leading to a fungal infection. Overwatering is the number one cause of root rot. To prevent root rot, maintain an appropriate watering schedule. If your environment is highly susceptible to root rot, you can preventatively treat your soil with a copper-based fungicide every couple months. 

Leaf spot is a fungal infection that is usually caused by water sitting on the leaves. This is why misting is usually not recommended for Alocasia zebrina. Luckily, if caught early enough, leaf spot can be treated with a fungicide with minimal damage to the plant. 

How to Propagate Alocasia Zebrina

Propagating Alocasia zebrina is best done through division. This process is done by separating the rhizomes (tubers within the root system that grow horizontally). It is best to propagate during the growing season so the baby plants have plenty of resources to stabilize in their new container. 

Begin by removing the parent plant from the pot and shaking off as much soil as possible. By looking at the roots you can see if there are natural separations in the roots. There may also be baby plants that have created their own root system off of the parent plant. 

Do your best to separate the roots without damaging them. If the roots must be cut, use a sharp, sterilized tool and make as few cuts as possible. Once the baby plants are separated, they can be repotted in their own containers. 

Just like with repotting into a new container, you should expect transplant shock when dividing your Alocasia zebrina. Maintain proper watering, light, and fertilization and your baby plants should quickly settle into their new pots. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Unfortunately, Alocasia zebrina is now considered rare in the wild thanks to over harvesting for house plant sales. However, nurseries are now growing new Alocasia zebrina through propagation and tissue culture, so wild collection is not necessary.

In the spring and summer, Alocasia zebrina is a fast grower. The plant can produce new leaves every week or two when given optimal care, including bright light, frequent waterings, and bi-weekly fertilization.

Alocasia zebrina leaves will begin to droop when the plant really needs water. This is a critical sign that water is needed before the plant starts losing leaves. 

If you have alternative methods for maintaining high humidity, misting is not recommended for Alocasia zebrina. Water sitting on the leaves can lead to fungal infections. If you do choose to mist your plant, use filtered water to prevent water spots. Also, make sure that the mist is not sitting on the leaves for extended periods of time. It should evaporate off within a couple hours.

Final Thoughts

Alocasia zebrina brings appreciation to a less showy part of most plants – the stem. With proper care, these beautiful striped stems can be the star of the show. 

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