top of page

Alocasia 'Black Velvet' -- A Popular Tropical Houseplant with an Intriguing Past



Ask any houseplant fanatic what their favorite Alocasia variety is & they will certainly have an answer. While they made their stamp on the decorative houseplant collection back in the 1950's, Alocasias have become increasingly popular in recent years.

A plant with over 79 known varieties would be a dream for any plant collector, but when you pair the foliage structure & wide range of sizes, spectacular colors, & remarkable patterns it's easy to understand why they are a well known favorite.

Ultimately, the popularity & decorative value of the plant lies within its striking foliage.

BREIF HISTORY OF THE ALOCASIA

Alocasias are a member of the Arum family found in the tropical forests of South East Asia. Before they were known as a decorative houseplant, the species was cultivated as food in areas around the Equator for over twenty-thousand years. The varieties we know today were bred from those in our ancient past & while present day Alocasias aren't edible, the ornamental aspects of our current plants trump their once sought-after taste (at least, I'd imagine).


SYMBOLISM

One of the more intriguing details I found while researching is that there is significant symbolism fixed to the plant. In both the Eastern & Western fairytales of Jack & the Beanstalk, the "tree that grows up to the heavens" is said to be an Alocasia. The metaphor behind the use of the plant in the story represents seizing opportunities when they arise, even when they are risky. This strong, constructive message only makes my love of Alocasias grow fonder.


HISTORY OF 'BLACK VELVET'

Now that we've hit most of the history behind the general species, let's dig into (no pun intended) the variety at hand, Alocasia 'Black Velvet' or Alocasia reginula. As we previously discussed Alocasias being from the tropical jungles of South East Asia, 'Black Velvet' specifically originated in Borneo. It was first discovered in the 1860's by an English plant collector who was hunting the tropical wilderness' of the world for new orchids & houseplants. While he didn't find an orchid, he discovered an incredible unique plant with black foliage.


Black foliage is an understatement for Alocasia 'Black Velvet' -- this plant has some of the darkest leaves of any other. This got me thinking, how exactly does a plant appear to be black? I knew the reason we see plants as green has to do with a combination of the light spectrum, photosynthesis, energy, & chlorophyll, so what is different when it comes to black plants? That question led me down a wormhole that ended up being incredibly interesting, but in order to properly explain & breakdown the subject we'd lose the topic of this Alocasia entirely, so I've saved it for another post. [Link will be inserted once written].


So, let's get back on subject. Unlike most Alocasia, 'Black Velvet' forms a branched, rhizomatous stem that can produce plants up to 18 inches wide! The plant stands just shy of one-foot tall at its mature height with thick, heart-shaped ovals for leaves that are approximately 5" tall & wide.


FROM RARE TO COMMON IN THE SNAP OF A LAB

At one point in time, the 'Black Velvet' variety was a rare plant highly sought after by collectors for its exotic foliage. This changed with tissue culture innovations. Tissue culture specialists mastered the art of propagating species en mass, thus making the plant available for greenhouse growers worldwide. Today, you can find 'Black Velvet' in a number of different plant outlets. The question currently isn't whether or not you can find it, it's where you can find it for the right price.


CARE INSTRUCTIONS

Alocasias are known for being a more intensive plant to care for than your average low maintenance plant, but by-golly is the extra research & care worth it. A full grown 'Black Velvet' is an eye catching conversation piece if I've ever seen one.

While they require special care & can be a tad particular, once you know what you're in for management is a piece of cake.


CONTAINER

A drainage hole is critical for your plant's container. Soil drainage is crucial for an Alocasia.


LIGHT, HUMIDITY, & TEMPERATURE

Native to the rainforests of Borneo, 'Black Velvet' is used to dappled or shaded light under the canopies of tall tropical trees. Recreating a plant's native environment is the easiest way for it to thrive. While some Alocasias do well outdoors, this particular variety requires warm temperatures -- around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant your 'Black Velvet' in a container so it can easily be moved inside when temperatures fall. If the climate does fall below 60 degrees Fahrenheit the plant will go dormant. For plants, dormancy declares when to prepare their soft tissues for freezing temperatures, dry weather, or water & nutrient shortages. Instead of exerting energy & attempting to grow, they will stop growing to conserve energy until warmer weather returns.

INDOORS: The best place to keep your 'Black Velvet' Alocasia is in a sunny room a few feet away from the window. This will allow it to receive bright indirect sunlight. Direct light or any sudden exposure can damage the leaves, so it is important to watch where the sun hits in your room of choice throughout the day. It is also worth mentioning how the sun will approach your window differently during particular seasons. Be prepared to keep an eye out for light differences throughout the year.

Humidity can be hard to control indoors. Keeping plants that require higher levels thrive in rooms such as the shower or kitchen where the airs moisture levels raise through everyday activities. If you find that your plant is suffering from dry air, which can be common during colder months, this could be the most difficult challenge. Misting the leaves regularly can help with lower humidity levels, as well as rock plates & humidifiers. Unless you already own specialized humidity tools, try misting before investing in anything costly. It will usually do the trick!

OUTDOORS: Dappled shade & indirect light will work outside during seasons when temperatures are at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a climate with high humidity don't be afraid to take it outside, as ideal humidity levels are around 65%.


WATERING

As previously mentioned, mimicking a plant's natural environment is the best way to keep it flourishing. For 'Black Velvet,' this means keeping your soil evenly moist without becoming waterlogged. Don't let your soil dry out completely. When you notice the top half inch of the soil is dry, water again.

Overwatering is a fear of everyone who hears "constant, evenly moist soil," but there are many easy ways to keep this from happening. Most of these actions deal with the soil & container your plant is in. If this is a fear of yours, make sure to continue to the "SOIL" section. With that being said, it is important to saturate the soil when you water your plant, until you see water falling through the drainage hole of your container, as to not unintentionally under-water. If you water lightly & only provide enough moisture so the top layer of soil becomes wet, the roots won't be able to reach the water & transport it to the rest of the plant.

I know this sounds daunting, but keep reading -- I'm about to let you in on how the soil & container can make watering the easiest part.


SOIL

Okay guys, here's the part that makes taking care of your 'Black Velvet' easy, but you may have to do a bit of experimenting before you get it just right.

The soil you use should be a light potting mix that can retain moisture, but should never be able to become heavy or water logged.

Some say to use a combination of standard potting soil with peat or sand. If you notice your soil isn't draining well, add vermiculite or perlite. These are both materials that will soak up water quickly. Be careful not to use too much of these, as you want your soil to stay constantly moist, but if it isn't drying out or continues to be water logged your plant will be susceptible to the dreaded root rot.


REPOTTING

This variety of Alocasia is a small one, so repotting isn't needed much. Check the soil & the root system to make sure the plant is getting cramped or not. Lift it out gently & if the roots are restricted or poking through the drainage hole, it's time to move up a pot size.


That wraps it up for this guide -- check out others if you have questions about light definition or soil drainage!



167 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page