Alocasia sanderiana

kris plant


Alocasia sanderiana

W.Bull 1894

pronounced: al-loh-KAY-see-uh san-der-ee-AH-nuh

(Araceae — the arum family)


common names: kris plant, Sander's alocasia

The derivation of the word Alocasia is rather convoluted. It would appear to start with the Greek word 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”. Sanderiana is for Henry Frederick Conrad Sander (1847-1920), a German-born British nurseryman who specialized in orchids. It is known as the kris plant because of the similarity of its leaf edges to the wavy blade of the kris dagger.

The plant is endemic to two islands in the Philippines, Bukidnon and Misamis Occidental. Although some plants remain there in the wild, in both primary and secondary forests in lower altitudes, the plant is listed as ‘critically endangered’, as, even although the remaining plants are in protected areas, parts of these are still being logged by the indigenous peoples.

This is a tropical perennial with upright shiny, v-shaped leaves that are deeply lobed. In its native habitat it grows to about 2 m tall, but it is usually much smaller in cultivation. The leaves are a glossy deep green, with large silvery-white veins, about 30-40 cm long by 15-20 cm wide, with reddish green undersides. The leaf stem is up to about 60 cm long. The rhizome or root stock is placed vertically.

When the plant blooms, the inflorescence is about 15 cm long. The green and white spathe covers the spadix that bears the flowers. The female flowers are on the lower, covered part of the spadix, below the constriction, and the male at the top. Cross-pollination is assisted by Colocasiomyia flies. The inflorescence goes through a 1-day pollen-receiving phase, when the flies bring pollen collected from another inflorescence - the pollen-releasing phase of a flower is one day later than its pollen-receiving phase, to avoid self-fertilization. After fertilization, the spathe and the upper part of the spadix wither, while the fruits develop within the enclosed walls of the portion of the spathe that was below the constriction. After several months of development, the infructescence dehisces, the outer wall splitting and opening out rather like the petals of a flower, to reveal the fruits, a cluster of orange-red berries that are not edible.

The plant, often used as a house plant, is cultivated for its ornamental leaves, rather than its flowers, that are not often produced.

Where it occurs naturally, it is reported that the indigenous peoples use a decoction of the plant to treat headaches.

The plant is propagated by the division of the rhizomes in spring. The rhizomes should be planted so that their tops are above the soil line, or the leaves may decay at the base.

There are many varieties and hybrids. The usual ones found as house plants are “Amazonica” and “Polly”. The former began appearing in homes in the 1950s, and a few years later “Polly”, a very similar, but smaller plant, came along.

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, 2015
Page last updated 11th July 2018