"The Potato of the Warm, Humid Tropics"
Uses : Edible, Aquaculture. Native to : Unknown. Naturalized to tropical areas worldwide.
Yes, this is the same ordinary bulb that can be purchased at the big box stores in the springtime. It can be grown anywhere, just about, that has at least seven months of warm weather. It can grow in just about any pretty moist soil, or even mud and shallow ponds, but standing water with no aeration is known to cause poor growth, as is true for most big aquatic plants.
That being said, I accidentally let mine wilt during a month of hot, humid breezes. I keep a thick layer of mulch over my elephant ears, which I do not have many of at the moment, and the breezes got to them. The largest leaf drooped out over my carport, which just made the plant look sad. That leaf never quite recovered.
Be sure not to confuse the elephant ear with caladium, which also grows from a bulb. They are completely unrelated plants and caladiums are not edible.
The leaves and roots are edible with cooking. Apparently there is a calcium crystal which breaks down when heat is applied. The crystal scratches and burns the mouth and throat when eaten raw. It could be good fodder for animals after cooking as well. The leaves can be prepared as you would any green, or traditionally with coconut milk as the Hawaiians prepare it. The roots can be eaten like a potato, for example baked in the oven for an hour. Corms can be mashed and fermented into a paste called poi.
The roots can be harvested for the base of the taro and the tops replanted. Cut just below the apical meristem. The tricks to this is to only use the corms from the largest, healthiest plants and to cut the corm off below the area where the leaves join the corm so that some corm remains. Then the plant is replanted. Also at this time offsets are separated from the parent to develop on their own. Leaves are usually removed during replanting so just corms and stems are placed in the ground or mud.
Taro is a known escaped invasive plant in Florida, and the state website says it's illegal to sell or reproduce this plant. Yet I have seen that the tubers can be bought at your local big box hardware store. Why is that?