Alocasia Black Velvet
Black Velvet Elephant Ear, Jewel Alocasia,
This petite yet stunningly captivating plant is commonly known as Alocasia Black Velvet, but it’s officially documented as Alocasia Reginula.
It may be small in stature, but it is non the less a jewel of a plant that displays large, lush leaves, resembling elephant ears, in such a dark green color they almost appear black in low light.
Position Bright, indirect light
Watering Water when top 1-2 inches of soil is dry
Size Maximum size 15″ tall, 9″ in diameter
Climate 59-80°F, Humidity 60-75%
Propagate Seed, Offshoot Division, Rhizome Division
Seasonality Winter dormant
Toxicity Highly Toxic to Pets and Humans
This deeply rich coloring is a result of the leaf surface’s ability to absorb all different frequencies of light. Even those we can not see. Each leaf is highlighted by an elegant system of veining in a perfectly contrasting color of silver that reflects those light frequencies.
Records of this plant date back to 1860, where it was first discovered deep in the tropical labyrinth of Borneo’s island landscape. Where, in often suffocating heat and humidity, the Alocasia Black Velvet continues to grow quite happily, visually standing apart from all other foliage surrounding it, in shape, color, and texture.
The broader Alocasia plant family consists of roughly 80 different species with this little, velvet queen resembling larger members. With the historical record being so vague on its exact parentage, this resemblance sparked a debate that continues today as to whether this gem is a unique species or in fact, a cultivar.
These rhizomatous perennials first began appearing as houseplants in the Philippines where they were domestically grown and propagated to become a beloved part of plant collections around the world.
Alocasia Black Velvet Care
As delicate as they might appear, Alocasia Black Velvet is actually quite easy to care for. They just have some specific needs to consider. By the end of this article, you’ll be ready to add this charming plant to your collection, too.
In its native habitat, this exotic queen thrives in dappled sunlight streaming through scant breaks in the jungle canopy. Humidity ranges between a balmy 60-75% with temperatures between 59°F to 80°F (15-27°C), depending on the season.
Mimicking this environment is easy enough by placing your plant in a sunny room with plenty of indirect sunlight. As the light changes from season to season, you may need to move the pot to maintain adequate light exposure. While also protecting it from leaf burn in summer and exposure to extreme cold in winter.
If you don’t have a bright, sunny room, these velvety jewels do better in low light conditions than other aroid plants, they will simply grow slower. So, don’t be afraid to give it a try.
Height And Spread
The regal beauty that is Alocasia Black Velvet stays pretty compact at just around 40cm tall with a spread of around 25cm. The main core of the plant is rhizomatous (it has nutrient storing stems running horizontally beneath the soil as well as roots) and despite its petite, overall size, each stunning textured leaf can grow to be 6 inches in length and 2 inches across.
As many black velvet growers can attest, over-watering is the number one cause of plant failure. This might sound odd with this being a tropical plant. Yes, it does love a humid environment and consistent watering. However, it doesn’t appreciate “wet feet”. In the wild, conditions can be steamy but below ground, the soil has ample time to dry out in between periods of rainfall. These plants have simply grown accustomed to that.
My general rule of thumb is to let my plants tell me when they’re thirsty. This way I don’t run the risk of over-watering. How can you tell? Test the top 1-2 inches of the soil of your plant with your finger. If the soil is around 90% dry, it’s safe to give them a thorough drink. If not, they’re not ready.
In addition to the “finger test”, the second step to preventing soggy roots is to use well-draining soil that allows for adequate airflow. Ensuring that the soil can dry out the way it needs to in between waterings.
First, you’ll want to avoid adding any peat moss. Black velvet roots are quite thin and delicate. Peat moss acts like a sponge, retaining more moisture than those roots require. I prefer to add mineral elements to a basic potting soil such as perlite, orchid bark, pumice, or small wood chips. Two parts of these additions to one part potting soil will support a happy, thriving Alocasia.
There are various pre-made potting mixes available to buy too. However, they rarely contain enough minerals to provide sufficient drainage and aeration to keep Black Velvet roots. For this reason, I tend to blend in extra grit or perlite to enhance the effects of good drainage for these types of houseplant.
This alluring perennial certainly doesn’t need any help in the beauty department but it will occasionally flower. Under the right conditions, a bloom will appear similar to a peace lily but with thicker construction. A center spathe inside a protective, pale yellow petal that is actually a type of leaf. If left on the plant, seed pods (or berries) will develop from the spent flower Beware though, these are not edible.
If exposed to enough direct sunlight, flowering plants will produce vibrantly colored blooms in order to attract insects. In turn, these insects will then assist with pollination and the spreading of seeds. Thus, making our gardens beautiful and giving us something lovely to look at. However, on the shaded floor of a tropical jungle, function far outweighs form. In its natural habitat, this plant doesn’t need to produce such visually attractive blooms. Pollinators are attracted using other senses and nature takes its course regardless.
How to Fertilize Alocasia Black Velvet
Alocasia Black Velvet is a pretty light feeder. If your potting soil is already rich in nutrients, only occasional fertilizing should be needed, if at all.
If your plant is showing signs of malnutrition, a general-purpose houseplant feed such as Miracle-Gro Houseplant Food with a low N-P-K will do nicely. Keep an eye on soil pH levels as soil acidity for Alocasia needs to be maintained at levels between 5.5 to 6.5.
Fertilize modesty, one to two times per month is fine and stop altogether in the winter. Any more could lead to root and rhizome burn which would decimate your plant.
Being a slow-growing plant, a healthy black velvet doesn’t need pruning. Which is one of the things that make it such a great houseplant. The only time it should need it is when you’re removing yellowing leaves or if your plant has sustained substantial damage due to overwatering, over-fertilizing, or exposure to extreme cold. Here are some helpful tips to accomplish this.
When removing yellowing leaves:
- Use a sharp, sterilized cutting tool (like a knife or small pruning shears) and separate the yellowing leaf from the bottom of its stalk, where it meets the base of the plant.
When removing large, damaged parts of the plant:
- Using a sharp, sterilized tool, separate the damaged portion from the base support of the leaf petioles. The green trunk of the plant will protect the more delicate rhizome beneath as the plant recovers and begins to rejuvenate itself. In time and with proper care, new shoots will begin to appear.
As if this plant needed to give us another reason to love it, not only is pruning rare but so is the need to re-pot it. Again, due to slow growth, repotting is only necessary every 2-3 years. And that’s only if the plant gets severely root-bound. It actually likes being a little snug in the pot.
If your Alocasia Black Velvet does require repotting, I have two important tips:
- The new pot or container should be no bigger than 1-1 ½” wider in diameter than the original. It will take some time for your plant to fill that extra bit in.
- Wait to re-pot until the plant is well into its growing season (around late spring). Being more active will help the plant recover faster from being moved. It may not recover if re-potted during its dormant period in winter.
How to Propagate Alocasia Black Velvet
Unlike more common houseplants, the Alocasia won’t root from stem cuttings. But, here are three other ways to multiply your plants.
- Growing new from seed – seeds form within berries that develop from spent flower heads. It can take months for the seeds to fully mature before you can harvest them. Once harvested, they must be planted right away.
- Separating naturally formed offshoots – In maturity, your plant may begin to produce offshoots. Each with its own rhizome and root system. However, it’s best to leave these with the mother until they have formed their own robust root system. Otherwise, they may not survive being separated. Once they have, you can free the new offshoot from the main rhizome using a clean, sterile cutting tool.
- Division of the base rhizome – once your plant grows to a sufficient size it will be strong enough to tolerate division. This should ONLY be done in the spring when the plant is actively growing. Gently remove the plant from the soil, shake off any excess. You will see a vertically growing tuber (or rhizome). Make a clean cut, with a sterile tool, horizontally, ca ross the tuber. Make sure that the piece cut will have some of the already established roots. That removed piece can now be planted in soil or placed in a propagation station or jar of water and with proper care should present new shoots, in time.
Common problems with Alocasia Black Velvet
Whilst this pint-sized Alocasia is robust and resiliant as far as houseplants go, it doesn’t come without issues. Here are some of the most common you need to look out for.
There are two types of pest in particular that Alocasia Black Velvet are susceptible to. Whilst both are unsightly, neither are detrimental to the health of your plant, provided they are treated early on.
- Spider Mites – tiny, red dots attached to the underside of leaves. They are attracted to overly dry soil where they lay their eggs. You do want to let the soil around your plants dry out a bit in between waterings but if left too long these mites may appear. Consistent watering deters these pests.
- Fungus Gnats – small, mosquito-type fliers that burrow into the soil for protection while laying their eggs. Contrary to spider mites, these prefer soil that remains consistently wet. Another plus to allowing the soil to dry out between waterings.
Treat both types of infestation in the same way by firstly moving your plant away from all other plants.
Next, you want to blast all affected areas of the plant with a reasonably powerful faucet of water. Do this in the sink, shower, or outside with a hose to dislodge either the fungus gnats or the spider mites and their webbing. Take care not to get too much water into the soil when the water runs off. This step can be done daily.
After rinsing on day one use a spray bottle or a clean dry cloth to apply a solution of neem oil and water to your plant. Carefully wipe the solution all over the plant paying particular attention to the underside of leaves and at stem junctions. Repeat this step every 5-7 days or until all signs of the infestation have been removed.
Once you have treated your infested plant, take some time to check over all other plants for any signs of infestation.
A specific watering routine is vital to the health of these plants. Over-watering is common and could result in a number of adverse symptoms such as:
- Bacterial Spots on Leaves
- Leaf Edema – watery boils that appear on leaves
- Extended leaf yellowing
- Soggy soil – which attracts pests
- An unpleasant odor emitting from your plant due to root rot
Rather than adhering to a strict and regular watering schedule, I find it better to check the moisture level in the soil on a regular basis instead. This gives me a better indication as to whether my plant needs watering. If the soil is dry in the top 1 to 2 inches and moist thereafter, it’s time to water. If it is still moist at the top, hold off watering and check again in a few days.
Toxic to Pets
While Alocasia Black Velvet is beautiful to look at, they are considered poisonous. If any part of this plant is ingested, calcium oxalate crystals are released that can get logged in the mouth and GI tract causing inflammation and an inability to breath or swallow. This reaction can be fatal if not treated right away, so it’s best to keep these plants out of your pet’s reach.
Toxic to Humans
The above warning is not limited to pets. The same reaction can occur if this plant is ingested by humans, as well. Caution is advised when growing any Alocasia in a household with small children. If ingestion occurs, seek medical attention immediately.