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Alocasia macrorrhizos (L.) G.Don 1839
pronounced: al-loh-KAY-see-uh mak-roh-RY-zoss
(Araceae – the arum family)
common names: Cunjevoi, Giant Taro, Elephant Ear Taro, ’Ape
The derivation of Alocasia is rather convoluted. As far as I can make out, it starts with the Greek κολοκασια (kolokasia), the lotus root, to which the root of this plant is similar, and the first syllable was replaced by α- (a-), not, to coin a new word meaning “not the lotus root”. Macrorrhizos is from μακρος (macros), large and 'ριζα (riza), a root. In the common names, Cunjevoi is an Australian aboriginal word, and the term also refers to a marine animal; Taro is a Maori word, and ’Ape (pronounced ah-pay) is found in several Pacific Island languages.
The cunjevoi is native to rainforests from Malaysia to Queensland, and has long been cultivated on many of the Pacific Islands. It is not truly wild anywhere, and is generally found near human habitation. It was probably a cultigen selected by humans in southern Asia as a food plant, and was transported across the Pacific in the canoes of those seeking new islands to settle.
It has large glossy emerald-green leaves that can be a metre long, held stiffly upwards, with prominent veining on the underside of the leaves. Given good conditions, the plant will grow anything up to 3 m in height, and it is quite fast-growing. After a few years it will begin to develop a treelike stem. It is easy to grow in either sun or in up to 80% shade. Mature plants will produce offsets, which are easily transplanted. The flower is a white spathe with a yellowish spadix. Cunjevoi can also be grown in a container, and makes a good indoor plant.
Similar to the true taro (Colocasia esculenta), the underground stem (a corm) is edible, but is safe to eat only after lengthy cooking, which breaks down the calcium oxalate crystals that injure human mouth and throat tissue. Not a favoured food, it was usually eaten only in times of famine.
Medicinally, the juice from freshly cut stems was used on the skin as an antidote after touching stinging plants such as nettles. The leaves were used to wrap up people suffering from fevers, partly to sooth the body, and partly because the bitter sap of the plant was believed keep evil spirits at bay.
This is a food plant for the caterpillars of a number of lepidoptera, including:
• the Cluster Caterpillar or Cotton Cutworm Spodoptera litura,
• Tryon's Hawkmoth Theretra tryoni,
• the Yam Hawk Moth Theretra nessus, and
• Cruria synopla, a day-flying moth.
The leaves are also useful as emergency umbrellas for those caught in a tropical downpour.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2012
Page last updated 11th July 2018