Are you one of those dedicated house gardeners with an unbridled enthusiasm for discovering new house plants? Then the elephant’s ear, Haemanthus albiflos, has probably long since aroused your interest. Here you can find out the most important things about caring for and overwintering, as well as some information about other blood flowers.
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The Haemanthus albiflos is a South African amaryllis plant, so it has a much friendlier climate than we are used to, the daytime temperatures in its homeland are always somewhere between 23 and 35 degrees. Snow and temperatures below zero are very rare there, which is why the elephant ear can only be kept as a houseplant in our country. Our room temperatures, in every usual range, and also dry air (even heating air) tolerate the elephant ear very well.
In the room, however, the Haemanthus albiflos needs all the light it can get. South Africa is much closer to the equator than we are, the UV radiation is much stronger there. Therefore, you should not necessarily believe it when you read that an elephant ear also feels comfortable in partial shade. It is more likely that it just barely survives there. If you then notice that the leaves are getting longer and starting to sag, you have proof that your Haemanthus albiflos is too dark. If this happens, you should cut off the overly long leaves and then put the plant in a lighter shade.
In summer, the elephant ear can tolerate fresh air very well. A location outdoors and thus significantly more light than in the apartment.
Any cactus soil or your own mixture of two parts of potting soil with one part of sand and one part of clay granules is suitable as a substrate. The main thing is that it is well permeable to water and has mineral components.
An elephant’s ear is cast in the normal way. You should always give enough water at once to fully soak the soil, but remove excess water from the saucer. As with many other indoor plants, waterlogging can quickly lead to root rot. Before you water the next time, the substrate should be almost dry on top.
The Haemanthus albiflos does not have a particularly high nutrient requirement. In the first year in fresh soil, the plant does not need any additional fertilizer. In the next season, from the beginning of the vegetation phase, it can be some liquid fertilizer or slow-release fertilizer, once a month or twice a season, but only in half the concentration. If you forget that, the elephant ear usually gets along well without fertilizer.
The elephant ear feels at home in fairly small plant pots, repotting is only necessary (and advisable) when the pots seem clearly too small. This is usually the case after about three years.
If you want to transplant, you should do it before the start of the growth phase, in August or September. But be careful, if possible without damaging the root ball, the Haemanthus albiflos should react sensitively to that.
Encourage elephant ear to flower
In the homeland of the elephant ear it is summer when it is winter here. Accordingly, the natural sprouting phase/growth phase of Haemanthus begins in the South African spring from September and extends over the South African summer (December to February) until the dormant phase begins in late autumn (from May/June).
We would expect the flowers around February, when the elephant ear like z. For example, an aster would first grow and then bud and flower. But don’t do it. It starts its bud development during the dormant phase and sets the flowers quite quickly, which can appear at the beginning of the South African summer from November.
In “his” summer, the elephant ear is in our apartment. While staying outdoors is possible from around when the plant is in the middle of its dormant phase (March to May) or slowly waking up (from June). Against this background, it is now also understandable when you read that the elephant ear (despite higher light intensity in South Africa) does not tolerate direct solar radiation. Of course not if it is supposed to endure it during the resting phase (in winter, in its summer, the Haemanthus albiflos enjoying every ray of sunshine it can “snap” through the window). When the elephant ear then begins to grow in September, you can treat it to every ray of autumn sunshine on the terrace without worrying.
In July, for example, the elephant ear starts developing flowers, which it should have completed by November. However, this requires a few cool nights between July and September. If the outdoor location does not offer this, you should temporarily move the plant to cool indoor rooms. Reduced watering can also help flower development.
From the previous section you know that an elephant’s ear does not have to be overwintered in that sense. Most of the time it is a matter of getting a plant “over the winter” in the dormant phase. But the elephant ear is now in the middle of its vegetation phase, it will not “overwinter”, it can simply grow normally in your apartment.
There is actually no comprehensible reason for the frequently read recommendation to keep the plant cool in winter (between 12 and 15 degrees), the elephant ear is in full growth right now. However, it could have to do with the fact that the origin of the plant from a continent with contrary seasons is often not known. A rest period in winter is sometimes also recommended in retail. Then the elephant’s ear was probably already being treated in the trade completely contrary to its natural needs. According to current knowledge, however, the vegetation phase of a plant cannot be reversed so easily. If so, it would then come to recommending a rest period in winter, at a time when your elephant ear would much rather bloom.
You should therefore ask very carefully when buying the elephant ear. If a knowledgeable salesperson can assure you that this particular plant was grown or reared in our latitudes in such a way that it should now and then rest and then start vegetating, then you know what’s going on. If the seller doesn’t know at all that this plant comes from South Africa, you should probably treat the plant as its natural rhythm requires.
Of course, there is no guarantee if the plant has already had to starve in the shop. Your elephant ear will probably thrive better if you gently try to get them back into their natural rhythm. If you e.g. For example, if the elephant ear was told to enjoy a dormant period in February, you could simply extend that dormant period a little longer with reduced watering and fertilizing. Until you slowly improve the supply again and let the plant start growing. After a few years you should have arrived at the flowering in November, the natural behavior.
Propagation of Haemanthus albiflos
Over the years, your elephant ear will develop brood bulbs and/or side shoots. You can now use these to make new Haemanthus albiflos by carefully separating them when you repot your elephant ear.
Remember the delicate roots, neither the main root nor the mother bulb should sustain any larger wounds than absolutely necessary. Both the onions and side shoots can be placed in an extra pot, and new elephant ears can develop from both.
diseases and pests
An elephant ear actually only rarely gets sick. These injuries could occur:
- The leaves of the elephant ear lose their strong green color – usually a location that is too dark is to blame.
- Spider mites crawl around on the elephant’s ear, a common phenomenon when keeping them indoors instead of fresh air – immediately shower the plant thoroughly over the bathtub.
- If possible, keep the elephant ear cooler for a while, as the spider mites can multiply faster at higher temperatures.
- If the whole plant is weakening, check roots, often rot is to blame – cut back to healthy area, if the plant recovers, water less.
Caution: confusion is obvious
If everything you’ve just read about the elephant ear seems strangely unfamiliar and you don’t really recognize your elephant ear, that could be because we’re talking about different elephant ears. In addition to the Haemanthus, the giant-leaved arrowhead (Alocasia macrorrhizos) and the Kalanchoe beharensis are also known commercially as elephant’s ears, and there is also an elephant’s foot (Beaucarnea recurvata).
We are talking about the Haemanthus albiflos from the Amaryllis family and the Haemanthus genus, the blood flowers:
Other blood flowers or Haemanthus
This genus includes a few other species that interested room gardeners can purchase in stores or on the Internet:
- Haemanthus amarylloides: Is evergreen, develops the orange-red inflorescence in front of the two leaves.
- Haemanthus barkerae: Evergreen species, no foliage in summer, pink-red flowers.
- Haemanthus canaliculatus: Also only green in winter, bright orange flowering branches, several next to each other.
- Haemanthus carneus: The only Haemanthus that develops a large umbel with many pink flowers in winter.
- Haemanthus coccineus: Flowers before leaves appear, bright orange inflorescence, evergreen.
- Haemanthus crispus: Several of the evergreen Haemanthus next to each other during flowering can form a small orange forest that looks like a coral meadow.
- Haemanthus dasyphyllus: Evergreen, soft pink to flamingo-colored flowers.
- Haemanthus deformis: Evergreen Haemanthus that develops two true leaves almost at ground level with a showy white flower without a stem.
- Haemanthus humilis: Deciduous, two leaves, the light pink, round flower of a striking size appears in front of it.
- Haemanthus lanceifolius: Long-stemmed inflorescence, pink with clearly visible yellow stamens.
- Haemanthus montanus: Large foliage leaves, deciduous, long-stemmed, cream-colored inflorescences.
- Haemanthus namaquensis: Thick, fluffy, bright orange inflorescences on a short, thick stalk, leaves are curled at the edges.
- Haemanthus pauculifolius: Striking foliage leaves, evergreen, white, large tufts on the flowers.
- Haemanthus pubescens: Evergreen, extraordinarily beautiful orange-red inflorescences with large petals.
- Haemanthus sanguineus: Wintergreen, the large, globular, bright red inflorescence appears out of nowhere on a thick red stalk.
- Haemanthus unifoliatus: See Haemanthus sanguineus, longer stem only, evergreen.
Even more interesting facts
The plant genus of blood flowers or Haemanthus has just been shrunk by around nine species in the course of the latest genetic research. They have joined together to form their own genus, the Scadoxus. Why? As a Scadoxus, you have a very finely chiselled tuft of a porcupine as a flower head and dotted bulbs, the Haemanthus cannot keep up with them.
The name blood flower was first used for the eye-catching blood-red inflorescences of the Haemanthus coccineus, Haemanthus is composed of the ancient Greek terms for “blood” and “flower”.
If you are looking for really chic indoor plants, you are well served with the Haemanthus. Incidentally, the easy-care beauties are not “in” for the first time. A good 200 years ago, the Haemanthus were incredibly popular for a while. One can purchase beautiful antiquarian books with hand drawings of an elephant’s ear in bloom.