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Plantgasm - I love plants too much. By Derek Powazek.

Can You Grow Grocery Store Taro?

Why spend a ton of dough on fancy tropical plants when you can get them at your local grocery store by the pound? Taro is a root vegetable that’s been farmed longer than almost anything. It’s basically an Asian potato. It goes by many names (eddoe, dasheen, poi, malanga, arvi), but when it’s grown as a plant the common name is “Elephant Ear.” (The scientific name is generally Colocasia esculenta.)

I’ve grown many different kinds of Elephant Ears over the years – they’re one of my favorite kinds of plants – but I’d always wondered if you could grow the ones you see in grocery stores. So I decided to find out.

taro

I visited San Francisco’s Richmond district and quickly found a box full of Taro for sale at a small grocery store. Just as I was examining the box trying to decide which ones looked the most promising, I heard a voice over my shoulder.

“You can grow those, you know,” said an older Asian man.

“That’s exactly why I was looking at them!” I said, a little too excited.

“You want to get the smaller, round ones,” he said. “They grow best.”

“Thanks!” I said and happily plucked out three that seemed to match his guidelines. I started to walk away and then a thought occurred to me.

“Hey, how’d you know that?” I asked.

“I come from a long line of farmers,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said, even though my mom’s a teacher and my dad’s a psychologist. Hey, we’re farmers in spirit.

The three bulbs cost about a buck. When I got home, I stuck them in some soil, watered it, set it in a corner, and waited. That was about six weeks ago. Here’s what it looks like today.

taro2

Note how there are way more than three shoots coming up from the soil. So not only did all the bulbs sprout, but each of them sent out multiple shoots! The man was right – those were some healthy bulbs.

Colocasia esculenta has hundreds of varieties, so I have no idea which one this is, but some online sources mention Colocasia esculenta var. aquatilis as the one that’s commonly farmed for grocers. I’m gonna keep growing it to see how big the leaves get.

Verdict: Yes, you can grow Taro from the grocery store. Even if you don’t come from a long line of farmers.

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7 Responses

WOW, that’s hilarious! It almost makes me feel stupid for paying top dollar for them at the nursery. Thanks for sharing. I am going shopping! :-)

Amy

Posted by Amy (Get Busy Gardening) on 9 June 2011 @ 5am

I did the exact same thing a few months ago, a couple weeks ago mine looked like this:
http://wetmyplants.blogspot.com/2011/05/growing-taroeddoecolocasiaalocasia.html

mine are growing really slowly for some reason…

Posted by ellieT on 9 June 2011 @ 6am

I bought a couple last winter and just planted them in the ground last week. They were sprouting before even going in the ground! I should go buy more…

Posted by Loree/danger garden on 9 June 2011 @ 8am

Nice, ellieT! I don’t know if it matters, but it looks like the only thing I did differently was plant my bulbs a little deeper. Also, these guys love heat, so make sure they’re in a warm spot in your house. They also love water (most grow in marshy situations) so don’t skimp on the watering once they have some leaves up. Yours will take off in no time!

Posted by Derek on 9 June 2011 @ 12pm

Very cool! You remember the ones in my front yard? Guess where I got most of those? (Yep… the grocery store!) It makes me want to buy random roots in the produce section and see what else I could grow!

Posted by Rob on 9 June 2011 @ 11pm

This is the best thing I’ve heard all day. I’m trying to ‘jungle up’ my house, but I’m on a strict budget, trying to do everything for as close to free as possible. I’ll stop at my local Ranch 99 (Asian mart) tomorrow!

Posted by lisa on 12 June 2011 @ 6pm

Just out of curiosity, how do you know when to harvest?

Posted by Bom on 13 June 2011 @ 7am


Plantgasm

Plantgasm is where Derek Powazek chronicles his botanical antics and misadventures. More.