Colocasia esculenta is a tropical plant grown primarily for its edible corms, the root vegetables most commonly known as taro. It is believed to be one of the earliest cultivated plants.
The specific epithet, esculenta, means “edible” in Latin.
Taro is related to Xanthosoma and Caladium, plants commonly grown as ornamentals, and like them it is sometimes loosely called elephant ear.
Taro was probably first native to the lowland wetlands of Malaysia (taloes). Estimates are that taro was in cultivation in wet tropical India before 5000 BC, presumably coming from Malaysia, and from India further transported westward to ancient Egypt, where it was described by Greek and Roman historians as an important crop. In India, it is known as “Gaderi”, with smaller ones called “arbi” or “arvi” being more common and popular. In Indonesia, it is called talas or keladi.
In Australia, Colocasia esculenta var. aquatilis is native to the Kimberley region of Western Australia; variety esculenta is naturalised in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales.
Taro’s primary use is the consumption of its edible corm and leaves. In its raw form, the plant is toxic due to the presence of calcium oxalate, and the presence of needle-shaped raphides in the plant cells. However, the toxin can be minimized and the tuber rendered palatable by cooking, or by steeping in cold water overnight.
Corms of the small round variety are peeled and boiled, sold either frozen, bagged in its own liquids, or canned. The leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals. It is also sold as an ornamental aquatic plant. It is also used for Anthocyanin study experiments especially with reference to abaxial and adaxial anthocyanic concentration.