The Alocasia Zebrina is an adorable plant with loads of character. With lush elephant-ear leaves held up by zebra-striped petioles, who can resist? It was its unique stripes that first captured our hearts! 🙂
Also known as the Alocasia Zebrina’ Tiger’ or Elephant Ears, the Zebrina is not the easiest houseplant to look after. Admittedly, it can be a little fussy about its care conditions. But if you use the growing tips we list in this article, we’re confident you’d be able to keep your Zebrina happy and healthy.
Here’s a quick summary before we jump into the details:
- Place your plant in bright, indirect light. Rotate your plant to prevent lopsided growth.
- Don’t overwater your plant. Water only when you see the leaves starting to droop slightly, and the topsoil is dry.
- Use a very well-draining soil. Most problems come from an overwatered Zebrina.
- Warm, stable temperatures and high humidity are very important. Aim for at least 60% humidity.
- Repot infrequently.
- Wipe down your plant’s leaves to allow it to capture light and breathe.
- Use neem oil as a preventative measure to ward away pests, like mealybugs. Zebrinas are not pest-resistant!
- During dormancy, reduce watering and stop fertilizing.
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How to care for your Alocasia Zebrina
Like many tropical plants, Alocasia Zebrina prefers bright but indirect light. Their leaves lean slightly towards the sun, so it’s best to rotate its pot a quarter-circle (90 degrees) every week or so to support uniform growth.
East-facing windowsills are an excellent option for this plant. It receives a few hours of morning light (which is less harsh than direct afternoon sun) and ample filtered light for the rest of the day.
If Elephant Ears don’t get enough light, their petioles tend to grow long and spindly to prop their foliage closer to its light source. In this case, the leaves point heavily towards any source of light. This is a sure sign that you need to relocate your plant closer to a window or use a grow light to supplement sunlight in darker rooms.
Of course, with most tropical plants, too-intense sunlight is a bad thing. Direct afternoon sun should be avoided, as this can scorch the leaves. Avoid placing the plant directly in South-facing windowsills, as this receives harsh afternoon light.
Instead, filter direct afternoon sun with a translucent curtain or place it a few feet away from the window the reduce the light intensity.
The Zebrina has thick stems that store water, so it doesn’t need to be watered frequently. When your Alocasia Zebrina requires a drink, its leaves will start to hang downwards. Drooping leaves is a clear sign that it’s time to water your plant.
As quickly as you water it, water will fill its stem, and leaves will perk right back up. It’s great to have a plant that communicates so well with its owner!
As a rule of thumb, you can expect to water your houseplant Zebrina once every 7-10 days during the spring and summer, where growth is most vigorous. This will reduce in the colder months when growth slows, and your plant becomes dormant. Just watch out for the drooping leaves and respond by watering your Alocasia Zebrina.
If you are unsure, another way to check that your plant is ready to be watered is to check the soil’s moisture levels. Allow the top 2 inches of soil to dry before re-watering.
The Alocasia Zebrina hails from the tropical rainforests of SouthEast Asia. Aiming for a minimum humidity level of ~60% is essential for your plant to thrive.
A humidifier that produces vapour to a specified humidity level is the most effective and accurate way to increase moisture levels in the air. Here’s the humidifier we like using for this reason. Not all humidifiers have these settings, so do check if you plan to invest in one.
Alternatively, check out our guide on 4 ways to raise humidity levels if you prefer “homemade” options.
Given the warm climate it is used to, it’s no surprise that your Zebrina is not cold hardy. Temperatures between 65 – 77 degrees F (18-25 degrees C) is best for healthy growth.
Place your plant away from cold drafts, ensuring a stable and warm climate. Your Alocasia Zebrina is a little fussy, so swings in temperature stress it out!
In the wild, leaf blades typically span 12 – 15 inches (30 – 38 cm). However, indoors, you can expect your Zebrina’s leaves to be a little smaller. When kept as a houseplant, the Alocasia Zebrina grows up to 3 feet (92 cm) tall.
Soil or Growing Medium
This is important: your Alocasia Zebrina is fussy about its growing medium. It needs a highly well-draining potting mix. It hates sitting in stagnant water.
The following potting mix is what we use, which has kept our Zebrina thriving:
- One part perlite
- One part peat
- One part organic compost
Yes, you read that right— no need for heavy soils. Perlite and peat are great for drainage and some moisture retention, while compost adds nutrients.
Alternatively, another ideal growing medium for your Alocasia Zebrina is LECA. These porous clay balls are very well-suited to Alocasias (including other popular houseplants like the Alocasia Polly) as they provide your plant with a “false bottom”. As a result, roots never sit in stagnant water.
Want to give LECA a shot? Here’s some info on LECA’s pros and cons to help you make up your mind.
Feed your Zebrina with liquid houseplant fertilizer. We like this formula that is good for houseplants with loads of foliage. To use,
- Dilute the liquid houseplant fertilizer to half strength.
- Use the half-strength fertilizer every two weeks when your plant is actively growing (the spring and summer months). Hold off in colder months, when your plant is dormant.
- Every four months, flush your plant’s soil. This prevents mineral salt build-up in its pot. When flushing the soil, use room temperature distilled water.
Repotting should be done infrequently. Approximately every two to three years, during early spring, is best.
Do note that repotting stresses your plant out. It will need time to recover and establish itself again. Your plant also likes to the slightly root-bound, so you don’t need to be in a rush to repot.
Look for roots poking out of drainage holes before considering repotting.
Yes, unfortunately, your plant is toxic when ingested. Keep away from pets and children.
Its plant sap also may cause skin irritation, so use gardening gloves when pruning.
Pruning is not typically needed other than removing dead or damaged leaves. Use clean garden shears for this purpose.
Propagation by Tuber Division
Your Alocasia Zebrina has tubers (modified stems) and offsets (baby plants or plantlets) that grow under the soil’s surface. To propagate, we’ll need to separate the mother plant from the baby.
You can think of it as another way of propagation by division. This way of propagating is straightforward but can only be done on established plants. We recommend waiting till your plant is at least two years old before attempting this.
It’s also essential to do this in spring, at the start of the growing season. Avoid propagating in other months.
Lastly, your plant has sensitive roots, so please be gentle!
Here’s how to propagate your plant:
- Remove your plant from its pot very gently, taking care not to damage its roots. You can use your fingers to help loosen any compacted soil.
- Examine the roots. You would see clumped roots together, as well as some offsets. Offsets are baby plants (plantlets) with their own small root system.
- Untangle the plantlets’ roots from that of the mother plant. Again, use your fingers to untangle their roots, trying not to damage them.
- Repot the plantlets in another pot.
- Both the mother plant and the plantlets will likely suffer some shock from being separated. Give them some time to recover.
- Place both plants in a location where they receive bright filtered light and humidity of at least 60%.
- New growth is a positive sign that your plants have recovered!
Other Important Care Tips
- Dormancy. If you live in a country with seasons, the Alocasia Zebrina becomes dormant at the end of autumn and throughout the winter months. This means it is conserving its energy and isn’t actively growing. Leaves may shed and die back; this is normal. During this time, ensure your plant is in a warm spot, reduce watering and stop fertilizing. It will bounce back during spring!
- Dropping Leaves. Your plant will naturally shed its lower leaves as it grows new ones. It simply prioritises energy and nutrients towards new growth and dramatically cuts off supply to older leaves. This is normal and nothing to worry about!
- Wiping down the leaves. It’s a good idea to wipe down the leaves every few weeks with a damp cloth and then wipe dry. Accumulation of dirt and grime clogs up your plant’s foliage and reduces its ability to capture light and breathe. Just remember to pat dry after cleaning. Wet foliage is a breeding ground for unwanted bacteria and fungi!
- “Sweating” leaves. Interestingly, when your plant is overwatered, it tries to lose water by “sweating”. You may spot these water droplets on its foliage. It’s no big deal, but a chance for your to monitor your watering habits!
Common Pests and Issues
Alocasia Zebrina is a middle of the road plant when it comes to pests and diseases. It’s not particularly susceptible to pests, but it’s not highly tolerant to infestations either.
The most common issues are moisture-related. Too much moisture often leads to fungal root rot and may also invite leaf spot disease. The best way to prevent this is to ensure you’re watering your plant correctly.
Secondly, your plant may suffer infestations from the usual suspects – aphids, spider mites, fungus gnats and mealybugs. The most common of these is mealybugs. A preventative measure is regularly using neem oil to ward off these pests. Here’s how.
Similar Plants and Varieties
- Check out our Alocasia Round-Up (w/PHOTOS!)
- Alocasia Polly
- Alocasia Micholitziana ‘Frydek’
- Alocasia Reginula (Alocasia Black Velvet)
- Alocasia Macrorrhiza ‘Stingray’
- Alocasia Sarian
- Alocasia Lauterbachiana
What happens when the Alocasia Zebrina goes dormant?
Dormancy takes place if your plant senses a dip in temperature, alongside lower light conditions and drier air. These changes trigger your plant to conserve its energy, stop growing and even die back (shed leaves) in some instances.
This is a normal occurrence and nothing to be worried about. Your plant senses that growing conditions are not optimal and choose to conserve its energy rather than put out new growth. It’s all about efficiency!
During this time, your Alocasia Zebrina will not look at attractive as before, but it will bounce back once it senses the climate and light is optimal for growth.
During dormancy, reduce watering frequency. Wait till the top 3 inches of soil is dry before re-watering. Stop fertilizing. If your plant has lost all its leaves, then it’s okay to relocate it to a shadier spot; if not, leave it be.
There’s little else you need to do – the most challenging part is probably waiting!
Why are my Alocasia Zebrina’s stems bending?
If you’re referring to bending of the petioles (what holds up the leaf, not technically a stem), there are a few reasons.
If your plant is entering dormancy, some bending is normal!
If not, the most common reason for bending is insufficient light. This is usually accompanied by longer petioles. Relocate to a brighter spot to revive your plant – remember, it needs ample amounts of bright filtered light!
The second reason is overwatering. Check out the Water section on how to water your plant correctly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Alocasia Zebrina rare?
No, we wouldn’t say so. Its rise in popularity has increased the demand for this plant, but tissue culture has made the Alocasia Zebrina readily available. You would be able to find an Alocasia Zebrina on Etsy for reasonable prices. Around US$20-25 for a small plant (4 inch pot with a 1-3 leaves) is typically what you’d expect to pay.
Of course, larger, more established plants will go for US$50-100.
Be wary of anyone telling you the plant is rare and asking for a high price!
Is Alocasia Zebrina an outdoor plant?
It can be. If you live in a tropical climate, the Alocasia Zebrina can grow outdoors. Remember, its ideal temperature is 65 – 77 degrees F (18-25 degrees C).
You may also choose to place your plant outdoors in hotter months and bring it indoors during winter. It has USDA growing zones of 10 and 11.
What is the Alocasia Zebrina Tiger?
It is a nickname for the Alocasia Zebrina. Despite sometimes being mistaken for a different plant or cultivar, it is, in fact, not a separate species.
What is the Alocasia Zebrina Reticulata form?
The Zebrina is highly variable. The Reticulata form is where the leaves have patterned coloration rather than uniformly green leaves. You can check out what they look like here. Other than that, they look the same as the typical Alocasia Zebrina.
Similar Plants and Varieties
Deborah is a plant enthusiast and founder of Gardening Collective.