Giant taro is a massive perennial with huge elephant ear leaves 3-6 ft in length and 2-4 ft wide borne on leaf stalks 2-4 ft long. The leaf-stalks emerge from a stout upright trunk that can stand 6 ft tall. Their beautiful araceous flowers grow at the end of short stalk, but are not prominent, often hidden behind the leaf leaf-stalks. The stem (a corm) is edible, but contains raphid crystals of oxalic acid that can numb and swell the tongue and pharynx. The corms require prolonged boiling before serving or processing as a food. Giant taro is similar to other large-leafed arums such as the true elephant ears (Xanthosoma sagittifolium), the arrow arums (Peltrandra spp.), and Green Taro (Colocasia esculenta) Giant taro occurs naturally in tropical forests in Sri Lanka, India and Malaysia where it grows in the forest understory in openings and along streams.
An erect, cormous herb; roots with numerous suckers ended in little edible bulbs particularly near the surface of soil. Lower part of the stem has numerous fleshy fibres. Stem is round, 1-2 ft. in circumference, various in length, usually more than a foot. Leaves with erect long petioles, cordate, bifid at the base, with the lobes rounded, apex also round with a bent down dagger shaped point, margin waved. Lower part of the petiole sheathing, uper round, tapering. Flowers in pairs, axillary, large with a little smell; bracts large. Spathes linear, sub-cylindric before open, greenish-yellow, 8-12 inches long. Spadix cylindric, almost equal in length with the spathe, pale yellows.
It is edible if cooked for a long time but its sap irritates the skin due to calcium oxalate crystals, or raphides which are needle like. Plants harvested later will have more raphides. Alocasia
species are commonly found in marketplaces in Samoa and Tonga and other parts of Polynesia. The varieties recognized in Tahiti are the Ape oa, haparu, maota
, and uahea
. The Hawaiian saying: ʻAi no i ka ʻape he maneʻo no ka nuku
(The eater of ʻape will have an itchy mouth) means "there will be consequences for partaking of something bad".
The giant heart-shaped leaves make impromptu umbrellas in tropical downpours.