Colocasia esculenta - (L.) Schott
Taro
Other English Common Names: Coco Yam, Elephant's Ear
Other Common Names: coco yam
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott (TSN 42549)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.144891
Element Code: PMARA08010
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Arum Family
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Monocotyledoneae Arales Araceae Colocasia
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Colocasia esculenta
Taxonomic Comments: The cultivated taro; origin uncertain (FNA, review draft 6/98).
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: GU
Global Status Last Reviewed: 08Jun1998
Global Status Last Changed: 08Jun1998
Rounded Global Status: GU - Unrankable
Nation: United States
National Status: NNA

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (SNA), Florida (SNA), Georgia (SNR), Hawaii (SNA), Louisiana (SNA), Mississippi (SNA), North Carolina (SNA), Texas (SNA)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

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Distribution
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U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The distribution shown may be incomplete, particularly for some rapidly spreading exotic species.

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States ALexotic, FLexotic, GA, HIexotic, LAexotic, MSexotic, NCexotic, TXexotic

Range Map
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Ecology & Life History Not yet assessed
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Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank)
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Disclaimer: While I-Rank information is available over NatureServe Explorer, NatureServe is not actively developing or maintaining these data. Species with I-RANKs do not represent a random sample of species exotic in the United States; available assessments may be biased toward those species with higher-than-average impact.

I-Rank: Medium/Low
Rounded I-Rank: Medium
I-Rank Reasons Summary: Colocasia esculenta (taro) is widely cultivated for food throughout the tropics. It was probably the single most important plant to early Hawaiians and is still grown commercially in Hawaii today. In the conterminous US, a different morphological form of the species (separated in some treatments as var. aquatilis) is well-established in Florida, Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, southern Georgia, and the Gulf Coast of Texas, with the range extending west into Texas and north along the costal plain of the Carolinas. Invades a variety of riparian/shoreline habitats and wetland fringes, where it forms large, dense stands that displace native species; has been found in several relatively natural areas and is considered to have the ability to invade natural habitats. It is widely sold and planted as an ornamental, but it cannot establish in areas subjected to cold temperatures, which will prevent its establishment in much of the rest of the US. Reproduces primarily vegetatively, by ready fragmentation and dispersal of rhizomes; resprouting of rhizome fragments can complicate management.
Subrank I - Ecological Impact: Medium/Low
Subrank II - Current Distribution/Abundance: Medium/Low
Subrank III - Trend in Distribution/Abundance: Medium
Subrank IV - Management Difficulty: Medium/Low
I-Rank Review Date: 04Dec2006
Evaluator: Gravuer, K.
Native anywhere in the U.S?
Native Range: Probably originated in tropical Asia; widely cultivated throughout the tropics (USDA-ARS 2005).

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Screening Questions

S-1. Established outside cultivation as a non-native? YES
Comments: This species is a non-native that is established outside of cultivation (Kartesz 1999).

S-2. Present in conservation areas or other native species habitat? Yes
Comments: Found in a variety of riparian/shoreline habitats, including stream and river banks, lake and pond shores, bayou banks, and anthropogenic analogues such as canal and ditch banks; also found along wetland fringes (Langeland and Burks 1998, Flora of North America Editorial Committee 2000, Weber 2003, CSWGCIN 2004, FL-DEP 2006, Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006, Weakley 2006).

Subrank I - Ecological Impact: Medium/Low

1. Impact on Ecosystem Processes and System-wide Parameters:Medium/Low significance
Comments: The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FL-DEP 2006) states that this species has "changed the ecology of a large portion of shorelines along the St. Johns River and its tributaries by crowding out native plants that are important sources of food for wildlife." By forming dense stands in riparian areas, this species likely disrupts natural shoreline ecology processes (e.g. removal and deposition of sediment) to some degree. In addition, stands also sometimes break loose and form floating islands in waterways (FL-DEP 2006), reducing light availability to other organisms.

2. Impact on Ecological Community Structure:Moderate significance
Comments: Many sources noted this species' propensity to form large, dense stands that displace native species (Langeland and Burks 1998, Flora of North America Editorial Committee 2000, Weber 2003, CSWGCIN 2004, FL-DEP 2006, Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006), facilitated by its ability to reproduce vegetatively and its large leaves which shade out natives (Weber 2003). Weber (2003) unequivocally states that "extensive stands of this herb alter vegetational structure of riparian plant communities". In addition to these terrestrial impacts, stands also sometimes break loose and form floating islands in waterways (FL-DEP 2006), allowing for impacts on aquatic vegetation structure as well. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FL-EPPC 2005) rates this a Category 1 species (altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives), although apparently not all infestations are dense and problematic, as the Florida Natural Areas Inventory Invasives Geodatabase (FNAI 2006) reported that the species was the "dominant cover" in only 1 of 17 sites surveyed and occurred in "scattered dense patches" in an additional 6 sites.

3. Impact on Ecological Community Composition:Moderate significance
Comments: Many sources noted this species' propensity to form large, dense stands that displace native species (Langeland and Burks 1998, Flora of North America Editorial Committee 2000, Weber 2003, CSWGCIN 2004, FL-DEP 2006, Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006), facilitated by its ability to reproduce vegetatively and its large leaves which shade out natives (Weber 2003). Weber (2003) unequivocally states that "extensive stands of this herb alter dynamics of riparian plant communities". Some of the displaced natives are apparently important sources of food for wildlife, at least in Florida (FL-DEP 2006). In addition to these terrestrial impacts, stands also sometimes break loose and form floating islands in waterways (FL-DEP 2006), allowing for impacts on additional species. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FL-EPPC 2005) rates this a Category 1 species (altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives), although apparently not all infestations are dense and problematic, as the Florida Natural Areas Inventory Invasives Geodatabase (FNAI 2006) reported that the species was the "dominant cover" in only 1 of 17 sites surveyed and occurred in "scattered dense patches" in an additional 6 sites. An assessment in Galveston Bay, Texas rated this species 3 out of 5 for "Potential Severity of Ecosystem Impact" (potential compromise of ecosystem or loss of native population; expect 5-10% loss of native biodiversity) (Gossett and Lester 2004).

4. Impact on Individual Native Plant or Animal Species:Low significance/Insignificant
Comments: No mention of disproportionate impacts on particular native species found in the literature; assumption is that any impacts are not significant. However, it was noted that the dense stands formed by this species "crowd out native plants that are important sources of food for wildlife" generally (FL-DEP 2006).

5. Conservation Significance of the Communities and Native Species Threatened:Moderate significance
Comments: Found in a variety of riparian/shoreline habitats, including stream and river banks, lake and pond shores, bayou banks; also found along wetland fringes (Langeland and Burks 1998, Flora of North America Editorial Committee 2000, Weber 2003, CSWGCIN 2004, FL-DEP 2006, Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006, Weakley 2006). The Florida Natural Areas Inventory Invasives Geodatabase (FNAI 2006) reports several infestations in "good" quality habitats, such as floodplain marshes, lakeside marshes, and river edges. Invading wet/swampy areas in Torreya State Park in northwest Florida (Gerber 1999), a conservation area with many rare species.

Subrank II. Current Distribution and Abundance: Medium/Low

6. Current Range Size in Nation:Medium/Low significance
Comments: In total, about 10% of US land area is invaded. In the conterminous US, appears to be most densely established in Florida (FL-DEP 2006). Also well-established in Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, southern Georgia, and the Gulf Coast of Texas (Kartesz 1999, CSWGCIN 2004, Gossett and Lester 2004). Range extends west into Texas as far as Val Verde County and north along the costal plain of South Carolina and North Carolina (Kartesz 1999, Weakley 2006). In Hawaii, this species is currently grown commercially (approx. 5 million pounds of produce/year) and was probably the single most important plant to the Polynesians. Poi, the baked or steamed mashed corm, was the primary Polynesian food staple, and early Hawaiians grew about 300 different varieties adapted to differing local conditions. Currently, the species is established (persisting outside cultivation) on all of the main Hawaiian islands except Kaho'olawe (Wagner et al. 1999).

7. Proportion of Current Range Where the Species is Negatively Impacting Biodiversity:Medium/Low significance
Comments: Reported as highly problematic throughout Florida (Fox et al. 2006, FL-EPPC 2005) and as somewhat problematic on the Gulf Coast of Texas (Gossett and Lester 2004, Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006); likely has impacts between these areas as well (i.e. the extreme southern areas of: Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana). Rarely established and apparently not problematic in North and South Carolina (Weakley 2006). Not considered problematic in Hawaii (Wagner et al. 1999).

8. Proportion of Nation's Biogeographic Units Invaded:Moderate significance
Comments: Approximately 16 ecoregions are invaded, based on visual comparison of the generalized range and ecoregions map (The Nature Conservancy 2001).

9. Diversity of Habitats or Ecological Systems Invaded in Nation:Low significance
Comments: A facultative to obligate wetland species (NRCS 2006) that prefers moist to wet, silty soils rich in organic matter (Weber 2003, Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006, Kemper Center for Home Gardening no date). Prefers partial shade, but can tolerate full sun and full shade (Kemper Center for Home Gardening no date). Found in a variety of riparian/shoreline habitats, including stream and river banks, lake and pond shores, bayou banks, and anthropogenic analogues such as canal and ditch banks; also found along wetland fringes (Langeland and Burks 1998, Flora of North America Editorial Committee 2000, Weber 2003, CSWGCIN 2004, FL-DEP 2006, Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006, Weakley 2006).

Subrank III. Trend in Distribution and Abundance: Medium

10. Current Trend in Total Range within Nation:Medium/Low significance
Comments: Appears to be spreading fairly rapidly within Florida (Langeland and Burks 1998, Fox et al. 2006, FL-DEP 2006), but no mention of spread north or west from its current generalized range was found.

11. Proportion of Potential Range Currently Occupied:Low significance/Insignificant
Comments: Adapted to USDA hardiness zones 8-10 only (Kemper Center for Home Gardening no date); the Flora of North America Editorial Committee (2000) reports that "the species does not become established in areas subjected to cold temperatures". Therefore, the species appears to have already invaded most or all US states in which it could persist; perhaps some areas of California (in which the species is not currently established) would be suitable. Within the states in which it is currently established, spread to additional counties (especially in highly suitable areas like Florida) appears likely.

12. Long-distance Dispersal Potential within Nation:High significance
Comments: In the conterminous US, originally introduced as a food crop but now predominantly cultivated as an ornamental (Langeland and Burks 1998, Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006), for which purpose it is widely sold and planted (CSWGCIN 2004, Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006, Weakley 2006, Kemper Center for Home Gardening no date). Commercially grown as a food crop in Hawaii (Wagner et al. 1999). Vegetative fragments are easily carried by water and can be dislodged from banks by floods (Weber 2003, CSWGCIN 2004, FL-DEP 2006).

13. Local Range Expansion or Change in Abundance:Moderate significance
Comments: In Florida, infestations are spreading rapidly in waterbodies, increasing from 32% to 62% in public lakes and river since 1983 (Langeland and Burks 1998, FL-DEP 2006). Potential for expanision in Florida is considered to be high throughout the state (Fox et al. 2006). Also found to be "increasing in abundance through time" on newly-formed islands in the Atchafalaya Delta, Louisiana (Shaffer et al. 1992).

14. Inherent Ability to Invade Conservation Areas and Other Native Species Habitats:Moderate significance
Comments: The Florida Natural Areas Inventory Invasives Geodatabase (FNAI 2006) reports several infestations in "good" quality habitats, such as floodplain marshes, lakeside marshes, and river edges. However, disturbance is thought to greatly encourage the spread of this species (Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006).

15. Similar Habitats Invaded Elsewhere:Low significance
Comments: Also escaped throughout the tropics, in much of the subtropics, and in some more temperate areas, including Mexico, Central America, South America, southern Europe, southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, numerous Atlantic Islands (e.g. Canary Islands, Madeira, Azores), and numerous Pacific Islands (e.g. Micronesia, the Galapagos Islands) (Flora of North America Editorial Committee 2000, Randall 2002, Weber 2003, USDA-ARS 2005). Throughout, invaded habitats appear to be largely similar to those invaded in the US (Webb et al. 1988, Weber 2003).

16. Reproductive Characteristics:High significance
Comments: Reproduces primarily vegetatively, by ready fragmentation and dispersal of rhizomes and by budding at the base of the plant; seed production is very rare in the US (Flora of North America Editorial Committee 2000, Weber 2003, Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006). Plants often produce stolons as well (Langeland and Burks 1998). Grows quickly and produces large amounts of biomass (Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006, Kemper Center for Home Gardening no date). Resprouts readily if the entire rhizome is not killed or removed by treatment (Gerber 1999, FL-DEP 2006).

Subrank IV. General Management Difficulty: Medium/Low

17. General Management Difficulty:Moderate significance
Comments: Hand-pulling and herbicide spraying (1% solutions of 2,4-D, triclopyr, or glyphosate) appear to be effective techniques, while mechanical cutting (with or without subsequent herbicide application) is not (Atkins 2006, Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006). Hand-pulling is complicated by the fact that even very tiny rhizome fragments can resprout to form new plants, so removal must be complete to be successful; also, the species produces a sap that can irritate sensitive skin (Gerber 1999, FL-DEP 2006, Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006). In ecologically sensitive areas (i.e. where herbicide is not an option) with large infestations, control can therefore be very arduous (Gerber 1999). Fox et al. (2006) rate the management difficulty of this species as high in Florida.

18. Minimum Time Commitment:Medium significance/Insignificant
Comments: A seed bank is not a problem with this species (since it very rarely produces seed in the US), but because even very tiny rhizome fragments can resprout to form new plants (Gerber 1999, FL-DEP 2006, Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006), hand-pulling efforts may take several years to achieve complete eradication. Gonzalez and DallaRosa (2006) reported that 1% solutions of 2,4-D, triclopyr, or glyphosate provided effective control within 6 weeks of application, but herbicide use is not always an option in ecologically sensitive wetland areas, significantly increasing the time investment required for large infestations (Gerber 1999). Still, Atkins (2006) found that intensive treatments (applied every 5 weeks) of either hand-pulling or herbicides could achieve local eradication in one year.

19. Impacts of Management on Native Species:Medium/Low significance
Comments: Given the large biomass of established individuals of this species (Gonzalez and DallaRosa 2006), co-occurring native species will likely experience some impacts from either hand-pulling or herbicide treatments.

20. Accessibility of Invaded Areas:Moderate significance
Comments: The Florida Natural Areas Inventory Invasives Geodatabase (FNAI 2006) reported that several infestations (4 out of 17 surveyed) were in remote locations that were difficult to access. Also, because this species is grown as an ornamental, some infestations are likely located on private lands.

Other Considerations: Weedy plants in the conterminous US are essentially all one morphologic form (usually with long stolons). This taxon has been called C. esculenta var. aquatilis in some treatments. Forms cultivated for food (e.g. those persisting after cultivation in Hawaii and many other tropical areas) are morphologically different (Flora of North America Editorial Committee 2000).
Authors/Contributors
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Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Atkins, E.O. 2006. A comparison of eradication techniques of a nonindigenous emergent plant species (Colocasia esculenta). Thesis defense [Abstract], Texas State University-San Marcos. Online. Available: http://147.26.168.11/grad/program.html (Accessed 2006)

  • Central Southwest / Gulf Coast Information Node (CSWGCIN). 2004. Invasive species spotlight archive. Online. Available: http://cswgcin.nbii.org/issues/invasives/archive/index.html (Accessed 2006)

  • Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 2000. Flora of North America north of Mexico. Vol. 22. Magnoliophyta: Alismatidae, Arecidae, Commelinidae (in part), and Zingiberidae. Oxford Univ. Press, New York. xxiii + 352 pp.

  • Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FL-DEP). 2006. Weed Alert: Wild taro (Colocasia esculenta). Online. Avalable: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/invaspec/2ndlevpgs/pdfs/WildTaro.pdf (Accessed 2006)

  • Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FL-EPPC). 2005. Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council's 2005 List of Invasive Species. Online. Available: http://www.fleppc.org/list/05List.htm (Accessed 2006).

  • Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI). 2006, August last update. Florida Invasive Plants GeoDatabase. Online. Available: http://www.fnai.org/invasivespecies.cfm (Accessed 2006)

  • Fox, A.M., D.R. Gordon, J.A. Dusky, L. Tyson, and R.K. Stocker. 2006, October last update. IFAS assessment of the status of non-native plants in Florida's natural areas. Online. Available: http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/assessment.html (Accessed 2006).

  • Gerber, C. 1999. Colocasia esculenta in northwest Florida. Posting to TNC Invasive Species Listserve: Digest #023 (February 1999). Online. Available: http://tncweeds.ucdavis.edu/listarch/arch023.html (Accessed 2006).

  • Gonzalez, L. and J. DallaRosa. 2006. The quiet invasion: A guide to the invasive plants of the Galveston Bay area. Houston Advanced Research Center and Galveston Bay Estuary Program. Online. Available: http://www.galvbayinvasives.org/ (Accessed 2006)

  • Gossett, L. and J. Lester. 2004. Galveston Bay invasive species risk assessment. Galveston Bay Estuary Program, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Webster, TX. Online. Available: http://www.galvbaydata.org/FinalReport-2004/GBINVFinal2004.pdf (Accessed 2006)

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist and atlas with biological attributes for the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. First edition. In: Kartesz, J.T., and C.A. Meacham. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, N.C.

  • Kemper Center for Home Gardening. No date. PlantFinder. Missouri Botanical Garden. Online:: http://www.mobot.org/gardeninghelp/plantfinder/serviceplantfinder.shtml

  • Langeland, K.A. and K.C. Burks. 1998. Identification and Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas. University of Florida. 165 pp. [http://aquat1.ifas.ufl.edu/identif.html]

  • Randall, R.P. 2002. A global compendium of weeds. R.G. and F.J. Richardson, Melbourne. 905 pp.

  • Shaffer, G.P., C.E. Sasser, J.G. Gosselink, and M. Rejmánek. 1992. Vegetation dynamics in the emerging Atchafalaya Delta, Louisiana, USA. Journal of Ecology 80: 677-687.

  • The Nature Conservancy. 2001. Map: TNC Ecoregions of the United States. Modification of Bailey Ecoregions. Online . Accessed May 2003.

  • USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. 2005. December 9 last update. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) Online Database. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland. Available: http://www.ars-grin.gov2/cgi-bin/npgs/html/index.pl (Accessed 2006).

  • USDA, NRCS. 2006. The PLANTS Database. Data compiled from various sources by Mark W. Skinner. National Plant Data Center (http://npdc.usda.gov), Baton Rouge, LA. Online. Available: http://plants.usda.gov (Accessed 2006).

  • Weakley, A. S. 2006. Flora of the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, and surrounding areas. Working draft of 17 January 2006. University of North Carolina Herbarium, North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill. Online. Available: http://www.herbarium.unc.edu/flora.htm (accessed 2006).

  • Webb, C.J., W. R. Sykes, and P. J. Garnock-Jones. 1988. Flora of New Zealand volume 4: Naturalised Pteridophytes, Gymnosperms, Dicotyledons. Botany Division, D.S.I.R. Christchurch, New Zealand.

  • Weber, E. 2003. Invasive plant species of the world: a reference guide to environmental weeds. CABI Publishing, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 548 pp.

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