Mystery plant

I have these great plants growing wild all over my garden. I think that they’re great, but my housemate is concerned that they’re not indigenous. They look to me to be part of the philodendron family? Does anyone know what these plants are, and if they’re not indigenous, whether or not they’re ‘bad’ plants; e.g. do they take water from other plants?

Check out the studs that form at the base of the plant when a new leaf is growing. Fantastic!

28 replies on “Mystery plant”

i always thought these were called elephant ears, and i also thought that’s what dolmades are made of (you know those greek snacks with vine leaf wrapped around mince?) am i way off track here?

hey em,

seems you weren’t too far off.. my mom showed me an article in the sunday tribune by alyn adams in which he writes:

“The elephant ear, Colocasia, is more than just a middle-class suburban ornament. Known as taro in Polynesia and south-east Asia, it’s an easily grown staple vital to the nutrition of the peri-urban poor.”

I’ve just been told, by someone who read the headspace column, that “mdumbi” is the local name for taro/elephant ears – they’ve been grown in Africa as a staple for about 5000 years, so they probably arrived with the Indonesian settlers in Madagascar and East Africa.

I think technically, they’d be naturalised. But 5000 years – surely that gives them enough cred to be considered a firendly plant!

I know this elephant ear / madumbi debate is a month old, but I meant to write something earlier. I thought about this post when I was in the Bot Gardens in Maritzburg last weekend. Their wetland is full of these guys, hundreds of them. I don’t think they’d be there if the indigenous gardeners didn’t give them the thumbs up. keep them kirsty. Not only have they been naturalized after such a long residence (though I think 5000 years might be pushing it – agriculture got here 2000 years ago), the leaves are eaten as part of puri-patha. They are part of the patty in the middle of that tasty snack.

Steve, do you know how to prepare the leaves to make puri-patha? Maybe these plants do have a use after all …

You are indeed a very wise man Steve. I am very happy with my plants, and think they add great character to my garden. Sadly my housemate doesn’t feel the same way, and has removed them from ‘his side’ of the garden! The cheek of it!

I’m not sure of the details, but I have been told that the madumbi leaves are used as the base of the ‘patha’. They are apparently put in layers with some kind of paste inbetween, then rolled up to make a long leafy loaf which is cut into slices to form the actual patha patty. The trick would be to find out how the leaves are prepared and what the spicy paste is.

It’s Alocacia ” Midnight Magic ” You are lucky to have them coming up, they are not allways easy found, hence the name. Say Thanks To The Earth for the gift.

that is definitely what is called pitheria/puri patha in gujarati (don’t know what it is in english!).My granny rolls the leaves up in a dough mixture,then you cut the resultant sausage and fry or grill it-absolutely deliscious. The dough mix has chana flour and lime/lemon juice as 2 of its ingredients-beyond that I am clueless Steve. All the Indian shops in KZN stock this,and even a few gas stations,so you shouldnt actually need to try to make it I dont think 😀

just a note about the leaves…theres elephant leaves then there’s the madumbi leaves.the thing is, ornamentals from the family might not be edible.
the easiest way to grow taro/amadumbane/madumbies is to get to woolies or some veg retailer and find a soggy spot in your garden.they even flower arum like ..not as showy.and you can boil or curry the madumbies.

yonks ago i happened upon a red species, purple stalks,reddish leaves but smaller leaved.edible but itchy.tropical nursery.
Gujarati folk plant a small leaved purple leaved variety that is less itchy. no idea if its variety or species.
and lastly…deveining and rolling pinning the veins at the back of the leaves is a killer! sarah they have to be steamed or baked before they cut up to be frozen or fried,no?rather use spinach leaves as the folk in jozi do.
the end:)

Hi Kristy,

That plant is really something, I know it grows via a tuber. you don’t perhaps have one or two to spare or exchange for something else. I will pay all postage costs



Hi there. I’m also looking for these madumbi leaves any idea where I can get them in bulk in pretoria or gauteng

Hello Sarah,

Im still looking for some myself, will let you know if I find a supplier



Thanx will let u know if I get any on my side.know there’s lots in durban but I need constant supply

Hello Kirsty . I know this blog is a few months old but I can elaborate on Steve’s recipe because I make my own puri-patha with mdumbi leaves .

If you are still interest , here is how it is made .

You must select the medium to young leaves not the very old ones because the younger leaves are nice and tender . Wash the leaves thoroughly and dab drywith a kitchen towel . Use an oldish one or papertowel as the juice from the severed stem stains . Using a short fine blad paring knife , cut away the thick veins on the back of the leaf which will render it flat . The reason fo rthis is that when you are layering the leaves to make the roll the batter is even distributed inbetween . Once done you can prepare a batter from using ( this makes a medium size roll and needs about 15 large leaves or 25 smaller ones ) 2 cups of gram flour , 1.5 cups of peaflour , 1 cup of ordinary cake flour , salt to taste , 1 medium onion , a few green chillies ( to taste I generally use 8 medium chillies which is not too pungent ) 1 tsp tumeric powder , 1 tsp chillie powder , 1 tsp finely ground garlic or garlic powder and white or brown vinegar to make a thick plyable batter. Chop up the chillies & onion in a blender . Combine the dry ingredients and add to the blender using as much vinegar as required to render the mixture to a thick plyable batter that you will use to paste the leaves together . I place the leaves flat on the work surface ( you can use a tray but I am not neat ) tip to tip overlapping . Past the overlapped portions together then past the whole leave layout . Place two more in the same position and repeat procedure . Sounds difficult but very easy and fun 🙂 . Using your discretion you can place smaller leaves in sucha position such that all the leaves fall within the boundaries of the first two leaves and paste them in position . When done , roll up the leaves and place in double heavy duty foil , seal the seam by folding few times tightly and twist the ends to form a “polony” shape.

Place the “polony” on a trivet in an electric frying pan , fill with just enough water to touch the trivet and then keep topping up to that level and steam first at full heat for 20 mins to set the outside and hence the shape , then lower the temp to medium or medium low and steam for a further one hour or until the roll feels solid in the middle when pressed firmly fro the outside . Remove from heat , set aside and cool . Once the roll is completely cold ( over night in the fridge is great ) you can slice it into round patties and fry the patties in a pan with a little salad oil until brown on both sides .

WRT the puri ( the outer casing so to speak ) buy them ready made from a store . Its easier unless you really like messing with flour and doung then off course I shall give you the recipe for those . The diameter of the patties should match those of the puris or be a little smaller . I suggest you buy the puris first to gauge the girth of your roll .

I hope you find this helpful .


Bridgette Devin

Stubled upon this blog while trying to investigate the origins of what I eat…surprised at how many people who don’t appear to be of Indian origin seem to love puri patha!

Just some tips on the paste- it should be tangy and spicy with a slight sweetness. Indians use tamarind and jaggery(molasses) in their paste as well as other spices to your taste. I don’t offer a recipe as I’m a classic lazy Indian girl no grandmother would want for their grandson.I buy the patha, and puris( recently experimented with toasting the puris on a non stick fry pan…they end up poking like little rotis but taste like puris.), samoosas, sweet meats….who does all that themselves anyway.

About the patha leaves which I was investigating…I got the name of the leaves from an Anglo- Indian cook show..presented by a lady called Anjum(dont’t remember surname). Indeed it is made from a colocasia leaf, indigenous to Asia but found as far as Hawaii from my research. The veins contain oxalis acid which is what causes a tingling sensation in throat if it’s not prepped right. So remove vein and steam. Some lemon juice on the grilled pathas also help minimise the discomfort and make gobbling them up only a pleasure…enjoy your pathas…or as I found…native Indians call them pathas…we SA Indians have corrupted many words from our ancestral homeland!

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