A uniquely stunning houseplant, Alocasia zebrina has a striped stem like a zebra and big floppy leaves like an elephant. The contrast of stem striping and large, lush green leaves is quite remarkable.
Alocasia zebrina is a houseplant that wants to be front and center, and it embraces this role by being a bit fussy to care for, as well.
Not to worry, though. Once you know how to cater to its care, Alocasia zebrina is a wonderful and highly rewarding houseplant.
Table of Contents
- History and Naming
- Temperature & Humidity
- Common Pests & Issues
- Tips & Tricks
Alocasia Zebrina History and Naming
Alocasia zebrina is an exotic, tropical plant endemic to one island in the Philippines. In its natural habitat, it grows on rainforest floors and uses its huge leaves and long stems to seek out sunlight in the dense tropical shade.
The stand-out features of Alocasia zebrina which make it such a prized houseplant are the tall, elegant yellow and black striped stems and the profound arrow-shaped green leaves, which droop slightly, making them look like ears. The stems are erect and average 36 inches long. Each stem grows a single leaf, 12-15 inches long and 8 inches wide.
Alocasia zebrina gets its common names Zebra Plant or Tiger Plant from the stem striping and Elephant Ear from the drooping, pointed leaves.
Some variations of Alocasia zebrina have reticulated leaves (intricate netting-like patterns); this is an unusual marking not found in nature.
Sadly, this gorgeous plant is now rare in the wild due to overenthusiastic collectors. It is available from nurseries and cultivators thanks to cloning practices.
This isn’t a small houseplant; Alocasia zebrina grows 3-5 feet tall. It doesn’t get super bushy or wide, but the leaves need plenty of room to stretch out comfortably. Take this into account when planning where to locate this Alocasia.
These plants are listed under the name Elephant Ear, Alocasia tigrina, Alocasia Reticulata, Zebra Alocasia, and Alocasia Leopard. Alocasia zebrina is the only accepted and official name for this plant.
Much of the confusion comes from minor leaf structure and growth variations, which motivates sellers to label them as a new hybrid or cultivar. Technically, they are all the same, even if the leaves do grow slightly differently.
Alocasia Zebrina Care
As with all houseplants, Alocasia zebrina has preferences for watering, sunlight, humidity, and temperature. Follow these are guidelines, and your Alocasia zebrina will be happy, healthy, and thriving.
Alocasia zebrina likes the light and lots of it. Place this houseplant where it will receive as much indirect sunlight as possible. A south-facing window is the best. During the winter, when days and shorter and darker, you may need to set up a grow light to supplement the light this plant receives.
Be careful not to put the plant will it will receive a lot of sun directly on its leaves; this can cause leaf burn. A little is okay, but not for hours unending. If the leaves start to yellow, it is getting too much direct sunlight.
Because it adores sunlight so much, Alocasia zebrina will stretch its stems to reach whatever light is available. You’ll need to rotate it regularly so it doesn’t pull all to one side and become lopsided. Every time you water, turn the plant 90 degrees, and that will keep it growing evenly.
Plant Tip: A great way to ensure your Alocasia zebrina gets good indirect light is to place it near a south-facing window with a sheer or light curtain to block the direct sun rays. Or, put it in front of a frosted window, which also will give it the needed sunlight but not too harshly.
Since Alocasia is a tropical plant, it likes a wet environment. However, and this is key to successful Alocasia zebrina care; it stores water in its tall, thick stems. This means that it doesn’t like to be, or need to be, watered a lot – it’s best to err on the side of underwatering if you’re unsure. The ideal condition is slightly moist soil at all times.
The great thing about Alocasia zebrina is that it will tell you when it needs watering. When the stems start to droop slightly, it means they are low on moisture and need water.
The best way to water this houseplant is to let the water run through the soil until it drips out of the drainage holes. Always drain the excess water out of the bottom saucer, so the roots don’t sit indefinitely in ultra wet soil – this will lead to root rot.
Temperature & Humidity
Warmth and high humidity are a must for this tropical houseplant. The ideal humidity level is 60% or above, and the preferred temperature is between 60F-85F. If the leaves begin to turn brown, it’s a sign that the room is too dry for the Alocasia.
The best way to increase humidity is with a DIY pebble tray. Fill a baking tray with pebbles and place the plant on top. Then, add water to the tray. As the water evaporates, humidity around the plant increases and makes a tropical houseplant very happy. If you have a lot of tropical plants, you may want to invest in a humidifier.
A well-draining potting soil mix is critical to Alocasia zebrina health. Because overwatering and root rot are potential problems, the choice of soil makes a huge difference. Well-draining soil will ensure excess water drains properly. An organic all-purpose potting mix for houseplants is generally sufficient.
Alocasia zebrina is a heavy feeder and needs regular fertilizer applications during its growing season. From spring through autumn, apply fertilizer every two weeks. Never add fertilizer in the winter when the plant is dormant and resting.
It’s rather alarming the first time it happens, but leaf drop is completely normal with this Alocasia. During the growing season, Alocasia zebrina produces many leaves in a short amount of time. After it grows five or so leaves, it will begin to drop the weakest ones.
At first, the leaves will turn yellow and brown, and then they’ll drop off the plant. It looks awful, but it’s a natural function. The plant can only sustain 4-5 leaves at once, and when it reaches that threshold, it cuts off nutrients to the weakest leaves to focus on new growth.
If you ever see tiny beads of water on the leaves, your Alocasia zebrina is sweating from being overwatered. This isn’t the end of the world, but take note to water less in the future. The plant should recover on its own once it sweats out the excess through the leaf pores.
During the winter months, when the plant is resting, it may die back to the soil. This is fine; don’t panic. Just let it be. When the weather begins to warm up in spring, make sure it is in a warm, well-lit location, and it will renew.
Alocasia zebrina is toxic to cats, dogs, and humans.
Alocasia zebrina benefits from repotting every one to two years. Repotting doesn’t just allow the plant to grow taller or fuller; it also refreshes the expended and compacted soil. Don’t neglect to repot, even if your Alocasia is growing fine! Repot in the spring after it emerges from dormancy.
Common Pests & Problems
Alocasia zebrina suffers from the same pests as most other houseplants; mealybugs, spider mites, and aphids are all possible. You will need to keep a watchful eye on this houseplant along with all your others to ensure it is happy and healthy.
These tiny white insects adore warm, moist environments and eating plants. They look like masses of white cotton on the leaves and stems. Small infestations won’t kill a plant, but left untreated, they weaken plants and make them susceptible to disease and other pests. Wipe affected areas lightly with rubbing alcohol, neem oil, or insecticidal soap.
Colonies of spider mites are incredibly destructive; they suck on plant fluids, causing leaves to shrivel up and die. Spider mites look like minuscule red dots on the plant and most often hang out underneath leaves. They prefer dry, hot conditions.
These tiny bugs leave little spots on leaves, and often you can see their webs under the foliage. Prune off any areas infested with spider mites and discard them. This may include sequestering the plant, so it doesn’t infect others. Wash the leaves and plant with neem oil or insecticidal soap.
Another tiny sap-sucking insect, aphids are actually rather typical on houseplants. They aren’t a problem in small amounts, but heavy infestations cause stunted growth and curled and yellowed leaves. Aphids are soft, pear-shaped, and either green, yellow, red, brown, or black. Use a damp cloth to wipe off aphids or a mixture of neem and dish soap. Diatomaceous Earth also works well on these soft-bodied insects.
A disease caused by overwatering, root rot is death for a plant. Signs of root rot include dulling leaves, yellow leaves, and slowed or stalled growth. When the roots become waterlogged, they can’t get enough oxygen and basically drown. Rotted roots are black and mushy – if you’re worried about root rot, pull up the plant and visually check the roots.
If only a small portion of the roots are mushy, that area can be cut off, and the plant may rebound. Repot the Alocasia in new potting soil and only water when the top inch of soil is dry.
A few things may be going on here. The first thing to check is how much direct sunlight the plant is receiving. Too much direct sunlight will cause the leaves to turn yellow. Yellowing is also a consequence of root rot (caused by overwatering). The third possibility is insufficient nutrients. A plant will happily maintain 4-5 leaves, but older ones will yellow and drop off after that. This is entirely normal and paves the way for new growth.
This usually starts as brown patches and then spreads to the whole leaf. Browning leaves are from lack of humidity. Increase the humidity around the plant if it is during this happens during the growing season. When the Alocasia is dormant (during the winter), the leaves may turn brown and die off, and this is to be expected and nothing to be alarmed about.
Alocasia zebrina leaves naturally droop a little, but if they are really hanging down, it is because they need more water. It may take a little while for them to recover from the droop even after being watered. Be patient and keep an eye on soil moisture.
Alocasia Zebrina Propagation
Alocasia zebrina plants grow from bulbs, also called corms. It will produce new bulbs throughout its lifetime, and these can be carefully removed and planted to grow a new zebrina. You don’t have to remove the bulbs from the parent plant if you don’t want to; they will grow where they are without issue.
The bulbs are small and can’t be seen unless you remove the plant from the pot. Because of this, the best time to check for them is when you are repotting. That way, you aren’t disturbing the roots unnecessarily or too frequently.
Often, the bulbs will fall off the parent plant’s roots when you remove them from the pot. If they don’t, you can remove any larger ones with a sharp, sterilized knife. Repot the bulbs in new potting soil and water just as you do the parent plant.
Don’t be surprised if you don’t see new roots or growth for several months. This is normal; Alocasia zebrina can be a slow grower. Just continue to water when the top inch of soil is dry; overwatering will cause the roots to rot. Your patience will be rewarded with little white roots, and soon after, a stem will begin to form.
Four Tips To Keep Your Alocasia Zebrina Happy
- Ensure there is good air circulation around your plant. Never crowd plants together; this leads to disease development and easy transference of diseases and pests between plants.
- Do not place your Alocasia zebrina near a heating unit, as this will dry out the air and make your tropical houseplant very unhappy. The same applies to air conditioners and cold drafts.
- Only water when the top 1 inch of soil is dry, and be aware that many problems are caused by overwatering.
- Use filtered water and never tap water. Untreated water has too many hard minerals and sodium. City water is often treated with chlorine, which is detrimental to Alocasias.
Now that you know precisely what your Alocasia zebrina needs, you are well on your way to creating the perfect home for your new houseplant. This beauty of a plant is worth the extra effort, if only to make all your houseplant-obsessed friends super jealous.
Don’t be surprised if you get tons of requests for baby plantlets! Treat Alocasia zebrina with gentleness, and she will reward you with unequaled beauty.