The Alocasia Lauterbachiana, also known as Purple Sword or Elephant Ear, is well-loved for its exotic, sword-shaped foliage that grows from thick, upright zebra-striped stems.
Long leaves have elegantly scalloped edges. Flip over the leaves, and it’ll reveal surprising purple undersides, giving the Purple Sword its nickname. 🙂
In terms of care difficulty, we put this Alocasia Lauterbachiana a middle-of-the-road plant. If you give it enough warmth (between 65 to 75 degrees F or 18-24 degrees C) and humidity (>70%) and protect it from wind and drafts, this plant will reward you with healthy growth.
We’ll show you how!
Hailing from the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, the Alocasia Lauterbachiana is a rare houseplant with several name changes in its history. Only in 1990 did Alistair Hay, an Australian botanist, reclassify this species as an Alocasia.
It also has a variegated version, with cream, yellow, or light green patches on darker green foliage.
Caring for your Alocasia Lauterbachiana
Your Alocasia Lauterbachiana likes a lot of bright, indirect light, for around 8-10 hours a day. A few hours of direct sun is beneficial too, but not longer than that, or your plant will burn. East or West-facing windowsills are perfect for your plant.
You’ll know your plant needs more light when its petioles (stalk holding up the leaf) grow long and spindly as they try to reach for more light.
In this case, consider using a grow light, but ensure your plant’s light source is overhead rather than sideways. The latter can cause lopsided growth.
For the same reason, it’s also a good idea to occasionally rotate your plant. 🙂
As most Alocasia growers are aware, one of the main causes of plant death in Alocasias is overwatering. The Alocasia Lauterbachiana has thick stems that store water and absolutely hates sitting in a pool of stagnant water.
How and when to Water
Allow the top 2 inches of soil to dry out before watering. If the topsoil is still slightly damp, hold off and check back in a day or two. When new growth is forming, your plant tends to need more water, so check the soil moisture more frequently during this time.
When watering, water slowly and deeply, near the soil line, being careful to avoid wetting the foliage. Allow excess water to escape from the drainage holes.
Deep watering is great for your plant, as it encourages deep and healthy root systems.
Other important watering tips:
- Never use cold water on your Alocasia Lauterbachiana. Cold water shocks Alocasia’s fragile root system. Instead, opt for room temperature water.
- If you live in an area with hard tapwater, using rainwater, distilled water, or tapwater that has been left out overnight is a good idea. Harsh mineral salts will cause browning leaf tips.
Signs of over or underwatering
Yellowing leaves near the soil line are a sign of an overwatered plant. On the other hand, drooping, wilting, or greying leaves and caked soil is a sign that you need to water your plant.
Always check the soil moisture to confirm!
High humidity is so important for Alocasia Lauterbachianas. They need >40% humidity, with 70% being ideal. Too dry air can cause brown and crispy leaves.
Often, this is higher than normal moisture levels depending on where you live. If you can, invest in a humidifier. This is the most effective and convenient way to increase moisture levels in the air.
We like to think of it as the gift that keeps giving… as it can benefit ALL your tropical houseplants!
Alternatively, the second-best way is to use a pebble tray.
- Find a shallow dish and add pebbles and water.
- Be careful that the pebbles are not completely submerged – the waterline should only rise to about half of the pebble’s height.
- Situate your potted plant directly on top of the pebble tray, and ensure the plant’s roots are NOT touching the water. (This can lead to root rot.)
- The evaporating water increases humidity around your plant.
One thing that your Alocasia Lauterbachiana is sensitive to is the cold. It requires warm and stable temperatures ideally between 65 to 75 degrees F (18-24 degrees C) for vigorous growth.
Below 60 degrees F (16 degrees C) will lead to stunted growth, which may be unavoidable during the winter.
Also, keep your plant away from drafty doors and air vents. According to the University of North Carolina, Alocasias are susceptible to windy conditions.
Triggered by temperatures below <45 degrees F (7 degrees C), low light, and drier air, your Alocasia Lauterbachiana may go dormant.
Seasonal dormancy is normal for Alocasias and is not harmful. It simply means that the plant has recognized that growing conditions are not optimal, and so is choosing to conserve its energy for warmer months later. It will not put out new growth, and some dieback may occur so you may see leaves dropping.
Don’t worry: when warmer weather, higher light, and humidity return, your plant will regrow. 🙂
During dormancy, you may notice your Alocasia Lauterbachiana needs much less water. Follow the rule of not watering your plant unless the topsoil is dry, and your watering frequency will reduce accordingly.
You should not fertilize your plant during this time.
Like many Aroids, the Alocasia Lauterbachiana has an inflorescence that resembles that of a Peace Lily. They have a green or cream-colored modified leaf (called a spathe) that protects a central spike (called the spadix). Flowers are tiny and numerous, growing along the spadix.
These flowers aren’t considered significant or showy.
Alocasia Lauterbachiana has a unique growth pattern, with each new leaf splitting out from the existing stem of the last leaf. Each leaf has its own individual stem.
They are a quick and vigorous grower – a delight to observe 🙂
Spring and summer are when they grow quickest, provided that they have enough warmth and humidity. At maturity, they grow up to 3 feet (91cm) tall, and around 2 feet (61cm) wide.
In the wild however they can grow up to 4 feet (122cm) tall and wide!
Soil or Growing Medium
Your Alocasia Lauterbachiana loves slightly acidic (pH 5.5 – 6.5), loamy soils that are airy and well-draining.
We like using:
Alternatively, you can plant your Alocasia Lauterbachiana in LECA. In our experience, Alocasias really thrive being planted in LECA as it gives the roots ultimate breathability, and reduces the risk of overwatering.
Curious about LECA? You can read more about the Pros and Cons of LECA to see if it’s the right option for you.
Wipe down the leaves
Wiping down those thick leaves with a damp cloth, then wiping dry again will do you well. Even better, use a dilute solution of neem oil (which wards off pests like spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs), before wiping dry again.
Those intricate, raised veins and thick leaves tend to attract dust and grime, which hinder your plant’s ability to capture light and exchange gases. Wiping down those leaves prevents “clogged pores”!
Alocasias are known to be heavy feeders that benefit from a good nutritional boost. But don’t overdo it.
For our Alocasia Lauterbachiana, we’ve found that applying a liquid houseplant fertilizer, just once a month at half strength is sufficient. Apply only during spring and summer.
Too much fertilizer (or too harsh fertilizer – choose one that is urea-free) will burn the roots and rhizome and can also (you guessed it) cause brown and crispy leaf tips.
If you see a crusty white residue on the soil, this is a sign that your plant is overfertilized. You’ll need to flush your plant with room temperature, distilled water, to wash away excess salts.
Repotting your fast-growing plant is required every 1-3 years. Disturbing the roots is stressful for your plant, so repot when you see signs of your Alocasia Lauterbachiana becoming root-bound.
Spring is the best time for repotting, as this is the start of the growing season. Your plant has some time to establish in its new home.
- Water your Alocasia the day before repotting. This reduces transplant shock and helps your plant more easily dislodge from its pot.
- Place your plant on its side, using your fingers to gently work through any compacted soil.
- Coax your plant out of its pot. Try not to damage the roots.
- Choose a planter about 2 inches (5cm) larger than the original pot, and one with drainage holes (a non-negotiable!).
- Add fresh soil to the new planter, and re-plant your Alocasia Lauterbachiana in its new home.
- After repotting, your Alocasia may take a few weeks to recover. Be patient as it adapts.
Unfortunately, according to ASPCA, your Alocasia is toxic when ingested by humans and animals.
Like many others in the Aracaea family, they have oxalate crystals that pierce tissues, causing skin irritation, severe nausea, vomiting as well as gastrointestinal pains. Even worse, these may also cause kidney failure when ingested in high amounts by small animals.
You must place your plant away from children and pets.
Propagating your Alocasia Lauterbachiana
Instead, this tuberous plant is best propagated through rhizome division, literally slicing off a part of the tuber to make a new baby plant.
A few reminders before we get into propagation steps:
- The best time to propagate is early spring, early in the growing season.
- As with repotting, propagating stresses your plant out.
- Don’t propagate if you have a new plant, recently relocated it, or have a young or unestablished plant. Wait until you have a well-established, healthy plant. 🙂
Propagation through Rhizome Division
- First, sterilize a clean blade with 70% isopropyl solution.
- Unpot your Alocasia Lauterbachia, using your fingers to gently tease out the soil to reveal the rhizome (underground modified stem). Try not to damage the roots.
- Using the clean blade, cut off a portion of the tuber. Ensure it includes a few stems and some established roots.
- Repot the tuber in evenly moist potting mix. Choose a pot that is suitable for the size of the tuber.
- Place the mother plant back in its pot.
- Keep the plants in a warm, humid location with plenty of indirect light. If you have a humidifier, place it next to the plants and set at 70%.
- It may take about a month for roots to establish in the baby plant, and for your mother plant to recover. Your plants may show signs of stress in the meantime.
- New growth indicates your plants have recovered!
In terms of pruning, you’ll want to cut back unwieldy leaves if they start to overwhelm your indoor space. Using clean garden shears, cut leaves back to, but not flush with, the main stem. You should also remove any wilted leaves.
If you spot a yellow leaf, wait until the leaves are fully yellowed before trimming these off. Partially yellow leaves may still provide some energy to your plant, so you’d want to wait until it’s fully yellow.
Common Pests and Diseases
Unfortunately, Alocasias are somewhat pest-prone. Spider mites, in particular, love your plant. It’s important to regularly check your plants for signs of infestation.
Early detection is key!
Spider mites are about 1/50 inch (0.5mm) in size, so it’s not easy to observe them directly without a microscope. Instead, look out for pale, grey stipplings on leaves or fine webbing on leaf undersides and near the stems as signs of an infestation.
These sap-sucking pests use sharp mouthparts to pierce plant tissue and feed on sugary sap. This deprives your plant of nutrients.
They also like to feed on chlorophyll, which accounts for the discoloration of leaves when they are present.
To kill off spider mites,
- Isolate your plant from other healthy plants to prevent contamination. These insects are highly mobile so can start to infect your other houseplants.
- Take a good look at your plant. Use a water jet to physically dislodge any visible spider mites.
- Spray a neem oil solution on your plant’s stem and foliage. Neem oil works as a broad-based pesticide to inhibit feeding and breathing, and kill off larvae. Check out our guide on how to make a neem oil solution and how to use and reapply this.
- Use sterilized garden shears to cut off damaged parts of the plant. Dispose of this securely; remember, you don’t want to contaminate other plants!
- Re-apply neem oil as necessary.
Like spider mites, aphids are also sap-suckers. They usually cluster on growth ends, where they use sharp mouthparts to pierce plant tissues to reach the sap.
They are usually light green and pear-shaped, about 1/8 of an inch (0.3cm) long. However, there are over 5,000 species of aphids that also come in black, pink, and white.
Kill off aphids the same way you would spider mites (see above!).
Mealybugs look like little bits of cotton wool. While easily recognizable, they like to cluster together in hard-to-reach corners of the plant. You may not notice them until the infestation is severe.
For this reason, inspecting your plants regularly is essential!
Thankfully, mealybugs can be eradicated exactly the same way as spider mites and aphids (see above).
Rhizome Root rot
Overwatering is Enemy #1 for many Alocasias. As far as prevention goes, the 2 main things to remember are to:
- Water only when the topsoil is dry
- Use a well-draining potting mix.
If you have an overwatered plant on your hands, check out our guide on how to save it.
Droopy leaves may signal a few things:
- under or overwatering,
- too much sunlight,
- low temperatures, or
- low humidity.
Go through each potential cause to uncover the reason for your droopy plant.
Brown patches on leaves usually indicates that your plant is exposed to too much sunlight. On the other hand, brown and crispy leaves usually mean your plant is underwatered or has too little humidity.
Overwatering is the main reason for yellowing leaves. Check the soil moisture to confirm.
In a young plant, dropping an old leaf with the growth of a new leaf is normal. Other reasons for dropping leaves include cold weather, insufficient light, or overwatering.
Curling leaves indicate insufficient sunlight or humidity, underwatering, or a pest infestation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Alocasia Lauterbachiana a rare plant?
Yes, it sure is. Demand for this plant has increased but they are not usually available at local gardening centers. You’ll need to look for reputable sellers online to get your hands on one! 🙂
What is the Alocasia Lauterbachiana variegated form?
The Alocasia Lauterbachiana’s variegated form is one that has cream, yellow, or light green patches on its leaves. There are different forms and degrees of variegation.
The more variegated the Alocasia Lauterbachiana, typically the more difficult to find.
Similar Plants and Varieties
- Alocasia Jacklyn
- Alocasia Silver Dragon
- Alocasia Micholitziana ‘Frydek’
- Alocasia Melo
- Alocasia Regal Shield
- Alocasia Cuprea – the Mirror Plant, a famous dwarf Alocasia well-loved for its highly-glossy leaves that have a copper shimmer
- Alocasia Reginula ‘Black Velvet’
- Alocasia Macrorrhiza ‘Stingray’
- Alocasia Tiny Dancer – winner of “Most Unusual” Aroid at the 2009 International Aroid Society show and sale
- Alocasia Sarian
- Check out our Alocasia Round-Up (w/PHOTOS!)
Other Aroids with long and narrow, sword-like leaves
The Alocasia Lauterbachiana is a unique plant with sword-shaped foliage that brightens up indoor spaces. Keep your plant happy by:
- Providing bright indirect light.
- Giving it humidity >70%.
- Watering with purified, room temperature water when the topsoil is dry.
- Fertilizing monthly with a gentle (urea-free) houseplant fertilizer at half strength.
- Providing a slightly acidic, well-draining potting mix or LECA.
- Wiping down leaves with dilute neem oil to ward off spider mites.
Check out the Alocasia Sarian next!
Deborah is a plant enthusiast and founder of Gardening Collective.