"Elephant Ear". Is it a valid common name?

Discussion in 'Araceae' started by photopro, Mar 6, 2008.

  1. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    Some of you may have read a recent UBC post requesting ideas for a good "elephant ear" plant. If you've followed posts for similar requests I'm certain you've seen some of us poke fun at that name. But we also try to answer the question! It's not because we are trying to be irritating in any way, it is just a very poor choice for a common name!

    Here's why. There are plants in at least 6 scientific genera that end up being called "Elephant Ears". Those 6 genera include Anthurium, Alocasia, Philodendron, Caladium, Xanthosoma, and Colocasia. If you do a count of all the species in those genera on a scientific source you'll come up with between 3,000 and 4,000 species! And all of those are aroids. So if you are looking for an "Elephant Ear", which one of those plants are you trying to find? Some can grow leaves up to 12 feet (almost 4 meters) in length. But others are very small. As a common name, even though it is frequently used by nursery sales people, it is a very undescriptive term.

    I realize people will continue to ask for and about "Elephant Ear" plants. But I am also hoping that collectively, as a group of people who are trying to learn together about plants, we can begin to slow the move to add more and more unrelated species into this useless and over used common name. I just added a page to my own website in hopes some of the attention on the web for that term will land there and people will begin to learn just how useless a term "Elephant Ear' truly is!

    And if you were ticked off at our making fun, in a very light hearted way, about the use of the term. I personally apologize. I just strongly dislike the term! It is truly useless.

    http://www.exoticrainforest.com/Elephant Ear.html
     
  2. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Those wishing to be precise need to use botanical names. There are lots of people who use common names for plants who have limited knowledge of botany and horticulture. They will not be aware of lists of official common names or any other ivory tower-style efforts. In fact, trying to move in such directions might actually contribute to the existing, widespread problem of many thinking the common names they do know are unique. Maybe that is the real issue here, with the elephant ear - those asking about elephant ears not realizing there is more than one kind of plant called that. When that happens all that can be done to achieve understanding is to try and establish which elephant ear is being discussed.
     
  3. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    Possible. But 3000 to 4000 choices makes it quite a useless "common name".
     
  4. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    It is the way it is. As with official lists of common plant names, efforts to influence the majority of users - who are paying no attention to such things - will have little, if any effect. We have botanical names for those who need them, trying to make common names into botanical names is like trying to make oranges taste like apples - there is really no need for it and it almost certainly can't be done anyway.
     
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2008
  5. Michael F

    Michael F Paragon of Plants Forums Moderator 10 Years

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    Actually, efforts to influence the majority of users work very well.

    Except when a handful of people go out of their way to fight against and subvert the education process.
     
  6. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Sorry, not everyone needs to see standardization of common names happen - let alone cares.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2008
  7. blackbeauty

    blackbeauty Active Member

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    I think Ron is right. Elephant Ear('Kuping Gajah' in Indonesia. Ear=Kuping, Elephant=Gajah) is a very common name. We name it that way also here in Indonesia. Most people don't give a damn whether-for an example-it is a clarinervium or Cristalinum. How can we start to educate them ??. The idea to know, how people started to call these plants as Elephant Ear or since when it was called Elephant ear or in which countries or places it is called Elephant Ear are maybe more interesting, I think.
     
  8. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    >The idea to know, how people started to call these plants as Elephant Ear or since when it was called Elephant ear or in which countries or places it is called Elephant Ear are maybe more interesting, I think<

    Yep. Another downside to needlessly trying to standardize common plant names is that it denies all the interest provided by the many and varied common names plants have been given.

    Publications listing single common names for plants that actually have many may appear (and be) provincial in focus, if not myopic. A fully researched treatment of Acer negundo, for instance, a familiar garden tree and widespread North American native will give a common names list something like

    Box elder. Manitoba maple. Ash leaved maple. Plains maple. Stinking maple. Maple ash. Sugar ash.

    instead of indicating it has only one of these names - or worse, insisting it SHOULD only have one of these names - and a bookish one at that, like ash leaved maple.

    Often, of course, discussions give only the most prevalent common names and may (and should) spell this out in the introductory remarks. By doing so they aren't giving the whole picture, but space constraints are a common concern.
     
  9. bluesea

    bluesea Member

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    I can't believe what I'm reading, '... trying to standardize common plant names' is hardly a downside. Even more incredible is saying it's 'needless'. Photopro is absolutely right on this, as well as Michael F. There is NO 'interest provided by the many and varied common names'. I'll accept 2 or 3 common names for a plant, let's teach people those... but 25 names for the same plant isn't interesting, and they're not quaint---it's just an ocean of confusion and chaos. All the names hinders horticultural communication for everyone. Yes, 'it is what it is', but I certainly admire anyone who attempts to teach a few correct names to those new to horticulture. Based on personal observations in over 30 years of growing plants and teaching about them, people DO care and do want to learn correct common names for the plants they grow. A great many even want to know botanical names!

    The 'childish fantasy' and 'then I grew up' comment convinced me that there's obvious insurmountable twisted logic here, so I'm not wasting any more time or effort on this.
     
  10. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    It may be a futile effort to try to teach about plants, but somehow I thought that was the purpose of this forum.

    Although I don't particularly like common names, I can live with them. It just becomes difficult to live with a common name that is so freely applied to so many totally different plant species from very different family lines. It is even more difficult to accurately answer a question about an "elephant ear plant" when there is no indication as to which of all those species may be the subject of the question. But if I'm "childish" for trying, so be it.

    According to my webmaster our tracking service projections indicate some quarter million individuals from much of the world will read the posts on my own website this year. I guess not all of them have "grown up" just yet and are still looking for answers. This little map shows a sample of the folks who have logged on to look up one of my "childish" answers in the past 6 or 7 hours. But I'm sure the name "elephant ear" will live on. Somehow I just just can't help wanting to try.
     

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  11. greenthumb7

    greenthumb7 Member

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    I dislike common names on almost every level. They cause nothing but confusion and chaos. I agree 100% with photopro and bluesea. They're a pain in the ear.
     
  12. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Assuming there is a value to suppressing common plant names, how is it going to be done and by whom? Who decides what is a correct common name and what is not, for everyone else? I, for one, don't want someone in England telling me I can't call it box elder anymore, that silk tree will no longer be.

    Then there is the matter of all the people who don't speak English. Would they be expected to drop all their traditional common names, and use translations of the newly official English common names?
     
  13. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    >The 'childish fantasy' and 'then I grew up' comment convinced me that there's obvious insurmountable twisted logic here, so I'm not wasting any more time or effort on this<

    >But if I'm "childish" for trying, so be it.

    According to my webmaster our tracking service projections indicate some quarter million individuals from much of the world will read the posts on my own website this year. I guess not all of them have "grown up" just yet and are still looking for answers. This little map shows a sample of the folks who have logged on to look up one of my "childish" answers in the past 6 or 7 hours<

    Disliked comments removed.
     
  14. mommum

    mommum Member

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    I find the common name very annoying!!! I for one would like to be educated and get to know the proper names of this or any plant I own. I am new to growing these. I just purchased my first one at a garden center in one of the plastic bags among the bulbs section. Yes it was called Elephants ears but from the photo I recognized that it is in the Alocasia or the Colocasia family. I should properly say I think so as I do not know and won't know what I really have until later this year and I can get someone to help me identify it. I asked the nursery why it was named this way and they said it was easier. I told them I see nothing easier about having a pretty plant that I couldn't tell anyone about because I wouldn't have a proper name for some time. They agreed but that was just the way they did it.
    So you see for me the common name is no good at all because I can't share with you and tell you what I have. Nor can I ask about growing conditions, how tall it might get or not etc...

    Steve and everyone I do hope you will strive to educate. I really appreciate it:)

    Bea
     
  15. funnyfarmherbs

    funnyfarmherbs Member

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    checking all the forums available on the web of people through photos trying to figure out the proper name for the plant they purchased called an 'elephant ear' or other common plant names so as they will know how to properly care for it I would feel it is a widespread quest for the knowlege of proper names for plants. determining the proper name for a plant can be difficult and i am grateful for those who help when i am looking for a plant identification.
     
  16. edleigh7

    edleigh7 Well-Known Member

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    Common names CAN lead to a lot of misinformation about a particular plant, especially in this case...

    Ed
     
  17. chuckrkc

    chuckrkc Active Member

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    Elephant ear tells the general public the plant has large floppy leaves, reminiscent of its namesake. With one phrase something was actually communicated to someone about the plant. Alocasia would not tell the uninitiated anything.

    But no, out with elephant ears. However, I love Swiss cheese plant.
     
  18. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    When I began this thread I never intended to attack "common names". That was never the goal. Many people use them and almost without fail someone on this forum will point out the correct scientific name. But how do you do that when someone just asks about an "Elephant Ear"?

    I simply cannot use, or recognize, a single common name that is so frequently used for thousands of completely different plants from at least 6 scientific genera (now 7, thanks to your pointing it out). Obviously, I'll never get it stopped! But I can try to inform. And that is all I set out to do.

    If you like the term, use it. And thanks for pointing out there are at least 7 genera using the name. Monstera is a totally different genus with only 33 species. Philodendron has over 1000 plants in the genus and Anthurium has at least 800. Monstera isn't a Philodendron, an Alocasia, or an Anthurium.

    But if anyone wants to call their Monstera an "Elephant Ear". Feel free. But one premise in your statement is not completely correct. Many plants that receive the common name don't have floppy leaves. Some are quite coriacious (stiff and leathery). Part of the problem with the common name is there are zero rules that apply to its use.
     
  19. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    To my amazement, with the input of one of the world's top aroid botanists as well as several aroid experts, I've finally figured out which three plant species are most likely the prime candidates for the name "Elephant Ear". The one sold most often in the United States at discount stores with that name is actually Colocasia esculenta. That plant has over 200 known cultivars and the leaf blade takes on many shapes and colors. As a result, I've totally updated the information on that species on my own website:

    http://www.exoticrainforest.com/Colocasia esculenta large pc.html

    But there are two other species that also are being sold in many stores with that common name. One is Xanthosoma sagittifolium and the other is Alocasia odora. Both are variable as is Colocasia esculenta.

    I still don't like the common name "Elephant Ear" since it is freely used for so many plants that are in 7 different genera and totally different species, but at least I now know which species are commonly being sold with that name!
     
  20. edleigh7

    edleigh7 Well-Known Member

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    Very informative page, Steve, well done!!
     
  21. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Ed! I had lots of help.
     
  22. bullseye

    bullseye Active Member

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    Photopro....you could have just posted this, in the thread you make reference to, in the 1st place.

    Not everyone is up to speed with their botanical names
     
  23. photopro

    photopro Well-Known Member

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    I would have but you appeared not to like what several of us who didn't like the name "Elephant Ear" had to say about the common name. My goal is to inform, not to irritate. But it seems I manage to do that anyway. No one intended to "derail" your thread. Only to point out the common name is applied to thousands of plant species, thus making offering any help extremely difficult.
     
  24. bullseye

    bullseye Active Member

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    You didn't annoy me 1 ioata mate. " inform and not irritate"? Must be the AR way of doing things by the sound of things?

    Anyhoo...Colocosia Esculenta
     
  25. edleigh7

    edleigh7 Well-Known Member

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    Not to be picky, bullseye, but I believe it is spelled Colocasia... : )

    Ed
     

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