Elephant Ear Plant Becoming Big Problem in Central Texas

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You’ve probably seen elephant ears growing in yards in your neighborhood. The broad-leafed plants can grow in full sun or partial shade and love the water, making them a popular landscaping plant, however, when planted along creeks and rivers, they often escape cultivation. Elephant ear tubers spread downstream during periods of high river flows, allowing the plant to rapidly invade and colonize new streamside areas. The plant has become a serious problem on the Llano River, forming 8-foot tall stands that have replaced all native vegetation at some invaded sites.

Reduces Diversity of the Habitat

elephant ear

Photo: Flickr/Jnzl’s Photos

The elephant ear (also known as wild taro) is a native of the Asian tropics and has been in Central Texas since at least 1929. On Lady Bird Lake, in Austin, elephant ears like to keep their feet wet right at the water’s edge. It can grow so densely that it prevents other plants from getting established. This reduces the diversity and resilience of the shoreline habitat, as well as the foraging areas available to large water birds such as herons and egrets. The shallow roots of small elephant ear plants are easily uprooted in floods, which allows the plants to move downstream and start new colonies. Approximately 1/4 of the shoreline below the South 1st St bridge in Austin is impacted by elephant ear. It is especially common on the north shore of Lady Bird Lake, where it gets plenty of sun throughout the year.

For several years, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has partnered with Texas Tech University, Llano River Watershed Alliance, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to manage elephant ear along the Llano River. Teams of kayakers have paddled the river, searching for elephant ear and applying precise spot treatments of aquatic herbicide.

Efforts to Control the Invasive Plant Continue

Llano River

Photo: Flickr/agrilifetoday

In 2016, three elephant ear treatments were conducted along 25 miles of the Llano River and its tributaries. In areas where elephant ear has been effectively managed, native vegetation communities have quickly rebounded. The partnership continues to expand treatment downstream as control efforts are successful in the upper reaches of the river, ultimately building toward a watershed-scale approach to elephant ear control.