Arum Family (Araceae). Taro is an ancient crop grown throughout the tropic and subtropics. Taro is believed to have originated in South East Asia including India and Malaysia. Spencer (1966) stated that taro and other edible arioida were distributed from east India to Formosa and the Solomon Islands. Taro seeds were dispersed by birds, and palm civets .(Panoff, 1972, Hambali, 1979).
Taro, sometimes called the "potato of the tropics," or "elephant ears" is a wetland herbaceous perennial with huge “elephant ear” like leaves. It produces heart shaped leaves 2-3' long and 1-2' across on 3' long petioles that all emanate from an upright tuberous rootstock, called a corm. The petioles are thick, succulent, and often purplish. The leaf petiole attaches near the center of the leaf. The corm is shaped like a top with rough ridges, lumps and spindly roots, and usually weighs around 1-2 pounds, but can weigh eight pounds. The skin is brown with white or pink flesh. Taros can produce smaller tubers or "cormels" which grow off the sides of the main corm. Under ideal growing conditions, a single taro plant can get 8' tall with an 8’canopy spread.
There are more than 200 cultivars of taro, selected for their edible corms or cormels, or their tropical looking ornamental foliage. These cultivars fall into two main groups: wetland taros, the source of the Polynesian food poi, which is made from the main corm; and upland taros, which produce numerous eddos that are used much like potatoes for cooking and in processing.
Taro, although grown commercially in many areas of the Pacific Basin, for the most part, is a backyard crop planted usually in small plots near the house. Because taro has a high water requirement and a long growing season it can only grow where water is available most of the year. Its ability to grow in waterlogged conditions allows for the utilization of hydromorphic soils which are unsuitable for other crops (Onwueme, I.C. 1985)
Taro and other aroid food crops have traditionally been a source of food energy for Pacific Islanders. Taro is a plant that must be tilled and watered if it is to grow and perform. The roots and suckers of many varieties of taro were carried along the trade routes of the world. The taro plant has a triple value in that the stem may be used as salads, the tubers provide easily digested starch, with the leaves are used as a green vegetable. The leaves are also used as wrapping for food, as plates, and as an umbrella in a rainstorm. Cyrtosperma (giant taro) provides for a reserve food crop, which grows well in low-lying areas and saline swamps.
Distribution: For current U.S. distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.