Elephant ear

Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

This is a Colocasia esculenta, also known as wild taro or elephant ear, growing beside a pond at Tony Avent's Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, N.C., which more than 600 garden writers from around the country descended upon recently. For most of these folks, this was a highlight of the annual symposium. Tony is a famous plantsman, horticultural explorer (especially to Southeast Asia) and all-round garden personality. His nursery is fun, and though I don't regard him with the same hero-worship my fellow GW's seem to, even I have to admit the man has an amusing catalogue and he sells way cool plants. In the gardens at Plant Delights, just about every inch is carefully planted and labelled and yes, even though this group of people probably has more plants per capita than any other selected group in the universe, a lot of them were buying more here. I must be getting jaded. I no longer hyperventilate when I see a plant sale. But I did experience slight shortness of breath over this Colocasia esculenta. Its leaves were smooth as velvet. The color was smokey and sultry. Raindrops were still visible on the surface. Outstanding. No wonder gardeners go for these bold, heart-shaped leaves on plants of great girth - sometimes eight feet tall with leaves two or three feet across and three feet long. Besides their beauty, these guys are grown for food in places like Hawaii, which uses the tubers to make poi. Outside of the N.Y. Times crossword puzzle and Scrabble games, that is probably the only time in my life I've ever used the word "poi." Elephant ear - the perfect water-garden plant.

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