Alocasia lauterbachiana, also known as the purple sword, is a plant in the elephant ear family. In their native region of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, these plants can grow 8-10 feet in size, but when kept indoors they usually max out closer to 3-4 feet.
Purple sword plants have long serrated leaves that are green on top and a reddish-purple on the underside. This is where they get the name purple sword.
If you are considering an Alocasia lauterbachiana for your home, or you have one but aren’t sure how to care for it, this article should have all the information you need!
Alocasia Lauterbachiana Care
Caring for purple swords is relatively easy once you know what you are doing, but they do have some specific needs that must be met in order for them to thrive.
- Ideal Temperature
- When to Repot
- Common Issues
1. Ideal Temperature
Alocasia lauterbachiana are from the rainforest where they grow beneath tall trees in what is called the understory. This area tends to be shaded from the sun and maintains a pretty steady temperature between 65-80 degrees.
While this may fluctuate from time to time, temperatures rarely drop below 60 or climb over 85 and your houseplant will need to stay in this same range to thrive.
If exposed to extreme temperatures, your plant could experience stress or even start to die. Some symptoms of heat stress are yellowing leaves, faster than normal water absorption, brown leaves, and drooping leaves.
While symptoms of cold stress are yellowing leaves, slower than normal water absorption, drooping leaves, mushy stems, and dropping leaves.
If you believe your plant is suffering from heat or cold stress, be sure to move it to a more temperature-appropriate area as soon as you can.
The ideal humidity for your purple sword is moderate to high, ideally right around 70%. Since most of us don’t have humid homes, this means you will have to supplement your alocasia’s humidity levels. Thankfully, there are a few ways to do this that are fairly easy.
- Pebble tray
- Grouping plants together
The easiest way to raise your plant’s humidity is with a humidifier. These can be purchased at most big box stores such as Walmart or Target, or online on Amazon. You can usually get a good humidifier for less than $100, but there are more budget-friendly options as well.
Once you have your humidifier, simply place it near your plant and refill as needed.
My favorite method of raising humidity is the pebble tray. You can DIY pebble trays to be rather utilitarian or make them more decorative, whatever you prefer. To create a pebble tray you will need a plastic, ceramic, or glass tray preferably a few inches deep, pebbles or stones, and water.
Start by placing the tray where you think your plant will be happiest. Add the pebbles to just below the top of the tray, and then pour in the water to just below the top of the pebbles. Place your plant on top of the pebbles and voila. As the water evaporates, it will provide your plant with humidity.
One of my least favorite methods of raising humidity is misting. While misting can be effective, it’s a less precise method and it’s easy to overdo it or not do it enough. It can also damage your walls and furniture if you aren’t careful while spraying.
That said, misting can be good in a pinch, or every once in a while, if your plant needs just a bit more humidity. If misting is your only method of raising the humidity for your Alocasia lauterbachiana, you will want to do it every other day for a few seconds to keep your plant happiest.
Group Plants Together
Since plants are always releasing moisture into the air, another way to increase humidity is by grouping several houseplants together. This will create a small microenvironment and raise the humidity around all the plants.
You may still need to supplement this method with a bit more moisture, but by grouping your humidity-loving plants together, you can easily supplement all your plants at once.
Alocasia lauterbachiana needs lots of bright indirect light to thrive. You can provide your plant with the ideal light range by placing it near a north or east-facing window or keeping it a few feet from a south-facing window.
If you live somewhere that is short on available light, you can also supplement your plant’s lighting with a plant grow bulb. These can be purchased at most stores that sell plants, or you can get more high-end ones online.
The best thing about grow lights is that you can get them at places like Lowes or Home Depot for just a few dollars, making them easily accessible and affordable.
If your plant isn’t getting enough light, it will let you know. Its leaves might lose their purple color as they need plenty of light to appear purple. Its leaves might turn yellow, start drooping or even fall off. It will likely not absorb water well, and this can easily lead to soggy soil and root rot if you don’t catch it quickly.
Too much light is also a thing for alocasias. If you notice your plant’s leaves turning brown and appearing burnt, this is likely the result of it being exposed to too much direct sunlight. Move it a few more feet from the window and remove the burnt leaves. It should bounce back rather quickly.
A regular watering schedule is an important part of any plant care routine. This is especially true for Alocasia lauterbachiana. These plants thrive when watered regularly.
They like their soil to stay moist, only allowing the top 2 inches to dry out at a time before watering again. Usually, this means you will need to water 1-2 times per week in the spring-fall and every 1-2 weeks in the winter.
Not watering enough or overwatering can lead to a very unhappy plant. Plants that are being watered too much often devote more of their energy to growing foliage so they can better absorb more water.
This can lead to the plant becoming top-heavy and not having enough roots to support its growth. Not enough water can lead to a plant focusing on root growth so that it can find more water further down in the pot. This can lead to poor plant growth and an overabundance of roots.
With the right amount of water, your plant will have balanced growth that includes both roots and foliage.
Overwatering can also cause issues like root rot, fungus and mold, yellowing leaves, mushy stems, and even plant death if not caught in time.
Underwatering can cause yellowing leaves as well, so it’s important when you notice this symptom that you first check the soil to determine which is the issue before watering or withholding water. Underwatering can also cause yellowing leaves, drooping leaves, and hydrophobic soil.
The ideal soil for Alocasia lauterbachiana is one that is well-draining. Ideally, a mixture of 1 part potting soil to 1 part perlite. I use FoxFarms brand potting soil, but any brand should work.
You will find though that the right soil and mixture can really mean the difference between your plant surviving and thriving. So getting the best soil you can afford is important.
Another important aspect of Alocasia lauterbachiana care is fertilization. You will want to fertilize your plant every two weeks from spring to the end of summer and every 6 weeks in the fall and winter. You have two options for fertilizer with most plants.
Liquid fertilizer is the optimal choice for most plants. It allows them to get the ideal amount of fertilizer at optimal intervals. This option is great for dedicated plant keepers that can remember when to fertilize and are organized enough not to forget or skip doses.
To use liquid fertilizer, you will mix the fertilizer according to the instructions on the bottle and replace a regular watering with the fertilized water.
If you are short on time or don’t want to have to keep up with a regular fertilization plan, granulated fertilizer can be a great substitute. This fertilizer can be mixed into the soil and added to the top of the soil when you repot in the spring and it will release nutrients every time you water.
Both of these methods work well, so it’s all about what works for you and what you can keep up with. Keep in mind that over-fertilization can actually be more harmful to your plants than no fertilizer at all, so don’t overdo it thinking it will make your plant grow faster.
Overfertilization can cause the roots of your plant to burn, which can lead to root rot, yellowing leaves, drooping leaves, and mushy stems. If you believe you have over-fertilized your plant, you need to get it repotted and out of the over-fertilized soil as quickly as possible.
Fast-growing plants like Alocasia lauterbachiana need to be repotted regularly. Ideally, once per year in the spring. Every time you water your plant, a small amount of soil is usually lost out of the drainage hole, and as the plant grows it will use the nutrients in the soil. Repotting refreshes your plant’s soil and replaces soil that was lost throughout the year.
Choosing a pot
When choosing a new pot for your alocasia, you will want to select one that is only slightly larger than its current pot. Having a pot that is too large can cause issues with overwatering and root rot, so you will want to shoot for about 2” in diameter larger than the previous pot.
If you are happy with the current size of your plant, you can also divide the plant, keep half in the current pot and move the other half to a new pot.
You will want to make sure your pot also has a drainage hole. Good water drainage is very important to alocasias as they are prone to root rot. If the pot you love doesn’t have drainage holes, you can always drill your own.
It is a good idea to divide your purple sword plant every 1-2 years. This will help it stay a manageable size and will allow you to have extra plants to keep or give away to friends. The best time to propagate your plant is when you do your annual repotting in the spring.
To divide your plant you will need sharp shears that have been sanitized. You will make a cut on the rhizome of the plant and then gently separate the roots.
If you want, you can keep one mother plant and make a few smaller baby plants, or you can simply divide the rhizome in half and have two similarly sized plants.
9. Common Issues
Even with the best-laid plans, your plant can sometimes have issues. In this section, we will outline the most common problems and their solutions.
- Yellow leaves
- Brown leaves
- Crispy brown leaf tips
- Root Rot
- Hydrophobic Soil
Unfortunately, yellow leaves can be caused by a number of issues. Overwatering, underwatering, pests, not enough light, are the main ones, but it can also be a sign of over-fertilization. If you notice your plant has yellow leaves, you will want to start by checking the soil.
Soggy soil means you are overwatering and dry soil means you are underwatering. Adjust your watering schedule accordingly and go from there.
If reducing your watering schedule doesn’t seem to be helping with your plant’s wet soil, it could be that your plant isn’t getting enough light. Try moving your plant closer to a light source and see if this helps.
The most common cause of brown leaves is too much light. If your plant is directly in front of a window or seems to be getting burned, try moving it a few feet away from its current spot and see if that helps.
Crispy brown leaf tips
If the tips of your plant are dried out and look crispy, this is likely due to low humidity. Since the tips of the leaves are the last parts of the plant to receive water from the roots, they are also the first part to dry out when the air is dry. Try raising your humidity and see if this helps. Added humidity won’t be able to revive the current brown tips, but it should prevent new tips from turning brown.
If your soil is soggy and the leaves of your plants are drooping and turning yellow, there is a chance your plant has root rot. To check, remove the plant from the pot and rinse the roots with room temperature water.
Rotten roots will be mushy and dark brown or black while healthy roots will be white and firm. Remove any rotten roots and then repot your plant in fresh soil. If there are some healthy roots left, your plant should make a full recovery in a few months.
Alocasia lauterbachiana is unfortunately prone to pest infestations. Mealybugs, spider mites, and aphids all love feeding on these plants. In this case, the best thing you can do for your plant is to prevent infestations and check in with your plant regularly so if you do end up with bugs you catch it early.
To prevent pest infestations, you will always want to quarantine new plants in a separate area of the house for 2 months. This will help prevent any bugs that come in on new plants from infecting your current plants. You can also spray neem oil on your plants monthly as a second form of prevention.
It has been proven that time in nature is actually great for reducing stress and blood pressure, so I try to spend time with my plants weekly checking their leaves and stems for any signs of unhappiness or insects. Adding this to your routine should help you catch any issues quickly.
If you forget to water your plant and give the soil time to completely dry out, it can become hydrophobic. This means that your soil will no longer be able to easily absorb water from top watering and will instead repel it.
The best way to cure hydrophobic soil is to place your plant’s pot into a tray or tub and fill the container to about halfway up the pot. The water will slowly absorb into the soil through the drainage hole until the soil is completely rehydrated again.
If your plant is very large and you can’t find a container large enough to soak it in, you can also place it in the shower and leave it running with lukewarm water until you see the soil is absorbing water again.