Baroque Sword, Silver Sword, Purple Sword
In the late 19th century, at the height of horticultural discovery, the Alocasia Lauterbachiana, with its brilliant purple, sword-like leaves was first identified and cataloged in subtropical Asia under the genus name Schizocasia by the German botanist Heinrich Gustav Engler.
In maturity, this majestic flowering plant is often used as a botanical feature in living rooms and bedrooms lending a sense of light and airy, tropical coziness.
Position Bright, indirect light
Watering Water when top 1-2 inches of soil is dry
Size Maximum size 3 feet tall, 2 feet wide
Climate 59-80°F, Humidity 60-75%
Propagate Rhizome Division
Seasonality Winter dormant
Toxicity Highly Toxic to Pets and Humans
The name and genus of this gallant beauty had been hotly debated for almost 100 years, until the late 20th century when it was finally assigned the official title of Alocasia Lauterbachiana by the Australian botanist, Alistair Hay.
Being one of roughly 80 different species in the Araceae family, Alocasia Lauterbachiana, or Silver Sword as it is aptly referred to stands out as holding grand ornamental value in any home. Its smooth, glossy leaves reflect light and brilliant color (dark green on one side and purple on the other) while adding architectural interest with each rapier-shaped leaf.
With such a flawless appearance in your home, some may not even believe it’s real! How impressed they’ll be to learn that it is, given your expertise in its care by the end of this article.
Alocasia Lauterbachiana Care
If you want to keep your Alocasia Lauterbachiana in the kind of pristine condition that it rightfully deserves, then you will need to adhere to a few principles of care. Once these have been mastered, looking after this aesthetically pleasing beauty of a plant will be plain sailing.
In the wild, the chivalrous Alocasia Lauterbachiana flourishes, bathed in filtered sunlight beaming through breaks in the jungle’s natural awning. Humidity levels range between 60-75% with temperatures moving from 59°F to 80°F (15-27C) depending on the season. Any colder and it may stop growing altogether.
Simulating this environment in your home can be achieved by simply placing your plant in a sunny room that receives plenty of indirect sunlight yet away from the intense heat of direct exposure which could lead to leaf burn. As light changes from season to season, adjusting the pot’s location will maintain adequate light exposure while preventing any exposure to frigid air during a cold spell.
While some types of Alocasia fare well in low-light conditions, this particular variety does prefer consistent, indirect sunlight. A darker environment may limit the plant’s vital photosynthesis processes, resulting in a listless plant with faded color.
Height And Spread
In its natural surroundings, Alocasia Lauterbachiana can reach an impressive 4 feet in width and depth, with each fluted leaf spanning 2 feet in length. In your home, plant size will be limited by the size of its pot (typically 1-3 feet). It can certainly be a scene-stealer, nonetheless.
Each sword-like leaf emerges from the plant’s core on it’s own stalk (or petiole). As the plant matures, these stalks combine with the core in order to provide strength and stability as the plant grows in size.
As most Alocasia growers know, over-watering is usually the main cause of plant failure. But this is a tropical plant after all and so it needs a humid environment. It also requires adequate watering but it won’t fare well in consistently soggy soil. In the wild, conditions are quite balmy but below ground, the soil has ample time to dry out in between periods of heavy precipitation. These plants have simply adapted 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. If you are wondering how you can tell if your plant is thirsty, let me tell you, it’s easy. You just need to test the top 1-2 inches of your plant’s soil with your finger. If the soil is around 90% dry, it’s safe to give it a thorough drink. If not, then your plant is not ready and you should check again in a few day’s time.
You’ll also want to avoid misting these plants as a way of increasing humidity levels as this could lead to pests and fungal issues. Instead, use other methods such as a pebble-filled tray, grouping humidity-loving plants together, or investing in a humidifier if you don’t live in the right climate to replicate the 60 to 75% humidity levels required to sustain this plant.
Similar to others in the Alocasia family, these baroque beauties prefer free-draining, well-aerated soil. This will help safeguard against root and rhizome rot as the soil dries out the way it needs to, in between waterings. While at the same time, retaining water just long enough for the roots to absorb it.
When amending your soil, avoid adding peat moss as this acts like a sponge, retaining more moisture than these plants require. Then add elements to a basic potting soil like perlite, orchid bark, pumice or small wood chips. Two parts of these added to one part potting soil will create the best environment for a happy, thriving Alocasia.
I recommend using a pre-made cactus and succulent potting mix such as Espoma Cactus Soil Mix. This one contains organic forest matter as well as minerals to help with aeration. Even so, I always add extra grit or perlite to enhance drainage further.
If it’s easier, pre-made potting mixes (like for cacti or succulents) can be purchased that are formulated to achieve optimum soil drainage and aeration for these types of houseplants.
Under the right conditions and level of maturity, a singular bud will form similar to that of a peace lily but with a more sturdy structure. A center spathe surrounded by a protective, pale yellow petal that is actually a type of leaf. If left on the plant, berries will develop from the spent flower that are NOT edible.
Flowering plants produce vibrantly colored blooms (using a lot of direct sunlight) in order to attract insects who will then assist with pollination and the spreading of seeds. They also make our gardens beautiful and give us lovely views out our windows. However, on the shaded floor of a tropical jungle, function far outweighs form. So, the plant doesn’t need to produce such visually attractive blooms. Pollinators are attracted using other senses and nature takes its course.
How to Fertilize Alocasia Lauterbachiana
Being a larger plant, Alocasia Lauterbachiana is a heavier feeder than smaller members of the Alocasia family. Yet, due to the rare nature of these plants, it’s always best to be cautious when feeding them. Better too little than too much. When smaller, these statuesque beauties may not require as many additional nutrients as when they get larger. In either case, a standard low-dose houseplant fertilizer will suffice.
If you do feed your plant it is a good idea to check the soil acidity levels from time to time. Aim to maintain a range of between 5.5 and 6.5.
The frequency of feeding is just as easy. One dose of liquid fertilizer once a month during your plant’s active growing season (spring and summer) should manage its nutrients needs nicely, with no feeding necessary during autumn and winter. Any more could lead to root and rhizome burn which would decimate your plant. You could use slow-release fertilizer sticks but I find that I have far less control of how much my plants get and when with those, which has led to my plants faltering.
Given the right balance of growing conditions, your Alocasia Lauterbachiana will grow to a pretty substantial size, pretty quickly. Pruning to encourage growth isn’t really necessary so most of your efforts can go toward removing any damaged or yellowing leaves.
If you have moved your plant from a low-light to a brighter area and you find that growth has slowed somewhat, it’s a good idea to remove a few lower, healthy leaves just to jump-start some fresh, new growth.
You will need to take a good look at your plant to see which are the best leaves to remove rather than randomly snipping away at it. Do this by rotating your plant a quarter turn at a time and each time stepping back from your plant to take a good look at it. Aim to keep the overall shape of your plant and just removing the leaves that protrude more than others.
In either case, only a clean, sterilized cutting tool should be used, so as not to transfer existing bacteria on your tool to the plant. Then, remove the leaf and stem from the base of the plant in one clean cut. This will allow the plant to heal that cut faster. Any tears could invite infection.
Given the fast growth rate of this regal Alocasia Lauterbachiana, repotting will need to be done as soon as you see it becoming overly root-bound. Which could be every couple of years (There’s no rush, the Lauterbachiana likes to be a bit snug in its pot). When it’s time, the new pot or container should be no bigger than 1-1 ½” wider in diameter than the original as this will help to maintain healthy root formation as the plant grows.
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. And be sure to use the same fresh, free-draining soil as your more mature alocasias.
How to Propagate Alocasia Lauterbachiana
Unlike more common houseplants, Alocasias won’t root from stem cuttings. The most successful way to propagate your Alocasia Lauterbachiana is by rhizome splitting.
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 and shake off any excess. You will see a vertically growing tuber (or rhizome). Make a clean cut, with a sterile tool, horizontally, across the tuber. Make sure that the piece cut will have some of the already established roots. Both the new piece and the original can now be planted in fresh soil or a propagation station and placed in a sunny spot with indirect light to encourage new growth. With proper care should present new shoots, in time.
Common problems with Alocasia Lauterbachiana
Alocasias have proven to be fairly pest resistant, however there are a couple of pests that have been known to frequent these plants when given the chance:
- Spider Mites – tiny, red dots attached to the underside of leaves. They are attracted to soil that has been left dry for too long 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 will deter them. If infestation has occurred, insecticidal soap or oil will be effective enough to eliminate both eggs and live insects.
- Mealy Bugs – silvery insects that burrow into any plant crevice they can find, weaving a cotton-like cocoon where they lay eggs. As they feed on stalks, stems, leaves and flowers, the plant slowly withers. Removing all traces of the infestation by hand, including cutting off any heavily damaged parts is the first step toward elimination. Gently power spraying the plant with water may help to remove any unseen critters still attached and replacing the top two inches of soil may help to remove any that have fallen in during the removal process. Applications of an insecticide may also be necessary.
A good watering routine, proper lighting, humidity, and fertilizing are all vital to the health of these plants. Improper care could result in a number of adverse symptoms. These include:
- Browned or yellow spotting
- Plant Lethargy
- Basal Collapse
- Stunted growth
- An unpleasant odor emitting from your plant due to root rot
Toxic to Pets
While alocasias are 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, at all, 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.