|Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture|
Taro. A group of tuberous-rooted edible aroids, of the genus Colocasia, scattered throughout the tropics and subtropics of the world; cultivated also in many warm regions of the temperate zones, as Egypt, Syria, China, Japan, and New Zealand, and latterly in the southern United States.
The taro has been cultivated from very early times and the Egyptian variety, under the name "colocasia," is mentioned by Pliny as being of great importance in Egypt at that time. The culture of it was said to have been already introduced into Italy. The Egyptian variety, now called qolqas, is Colocasia antiquorum (Arum Colocasia), Fig. 3775, a quite different plant from that of the varieties most commonly grown in southeastern Asia and the islands of the Pacific. The qolqas is of very inferior quality and is said to be eaten in Egypt only by the laboring classes.
The botany of the taros of the Pacific regions is in an unsatisfactory state, owing largely to the infrequency with which many varieties flower, but most of them evidently belong to Colocasia esculenta (by some considered to be a variety of C. antiquorum).
The culture of taro has probably reached its highest development in the Hawaiian Islands and it is largely through its extensive use there that the plant has become so widely known among travelers and others. The large number of varieties despite the fact that the plants seldom, if ever, set seed, testifies to the antiquity of the culture of this type of taro. MacCaughey and Emerson, in the Hawaiian Forester and Agriculturist (vols. 10, 11, 1913-1914). record a list of 262 named varieties of taro, or "kalo," which are said to have been grown on the islands. But few of these are of commercial importance, and many are no doubt lost.
In Hawaii, taro is eaten mostly in the form of poi, a sticky paste made by steaming or boiling the taro, then peeling and "pounding" or grinding-it with the addition of a little water. It is usually allowed to ferment for a day or two before being eaten, and is considered to be a very easily digested, wholesome, and nutritious food. The organisms involved in the fermenting process are probably not always the same, but they appear to include a yeast and one or more bacteria. Fermented or sour poi is not alcoholic, but acid. Poi frequently constitutes an important part of the diet of invalids. By others it is usually eaten with meat, especially fish. Taro is also eaten boiled, or parboiled and baked, and in many other ways like the potato. Most varieties are acrid in the raw state, however, and these often require longer cooking in order to destroy this property. When properly cooked and served, the better varieties of taro are highly palatable and constitute a most valuable food. The young leaves, before they open, are prized as greens and are called "luau." They are parboiled with baking soda or cooked with fat meat to destroy the acridity.
The cultivation and use of taro in Hawaii appears to be slowly decreasing, although in 1913 it was estimated that the total planting was somewhat greater than 1,500 acres. It is reckoned as fourth in importance among the crops cultivated, sugarcane, rice, and pineapple exceeding it. Taro-culture is of two general types, water and upland, and a different set of varieties is grown for each. The length of season required to grow a crop is about one year, although some varieties require longer and some mature in less time. Propagation is by a "huli," which consists of the top of a corm or cormel with 7 or 8 inches of the inner petioles still attached. Planting is undertaken at any time of the year.
In water culture the hulis are placed rather close together, often no more than a square foot being allowed for each plant. The cultural treatment varies greatly and is doubtless influenced by the water-supply, water being often scarce. The soil is puddled in order to prevent too rapid seepage. In some cases the land is rested for several weeks between crops, but more often replanting is made at once. Again, water is sometimes withheld for two to four weeks after planting, while at others the ground is not allowed to dry. At harvest-time the laborers wade into the mud and water and pull up the taro plants by the roots. The roots are then removed from the corms, the outer leaves stripped off, and hulis made from the tops as already described.
The practice in growing upland taro in Hawaii also varies considerably in the spacing of the plants, they being sometimes planted in small groups, at regular intervals, though more commonly in regular rows. The harvesting is performed by hand in much the same manner as described for water taro, a simple tool being used, however, in lifting the plants. Upland taro can be grown only where the rainfall is abundant and well distributed throughout the year, hence its culture is limited to certain localities.
A variety of this same species of taro, Colocasia esculenta, known as the Trinidad dasheen (Fig. 3777), was introduced into the United States for culture in the South, in 1905, it having been previously brought from the island of Trinidad to Porto Rico by O. W. Barrett. This variety, which has come to be known simply as "dasheen," is thought to have come originally from China, as its name, a corruption from "de la Chine" or "da Chine," indicates. Varieties similar in appearance but inferior in quality exist, some of them known to be of Chinese origin.
The Trinidad dasheen is considered to be one of the most promising crop plants introduced into the United States in recent years, as it is thoroughly adapted for culture in the moist sandy loams of the South Atlantic and Gulf states and as grown in such soils, is of excellent quality. The crop from each hill when well grown, consists of one or more large central corms, with a large number of lateral cormels or "tubers" (Fig. 3778). The total yield from one hill in good soil ranges from four pounds to as high as thirty pounds in rare cases. These are cooked for table use like potatoes. They are somewhat drier and have a delicate nutty flavor when they have been grown under suitable conditions and are properly prepared. The color of cooked dasheens varies from white or cream to gray or violet. When grown in heavy or poorly drained lands, however, the quality is usually inferior, in both texture and flavor.
An average of eleven analyses of the dasheen gives 27 2/3 per cent of starch and sugars and 3 per cent of protein. The sugar-content is a little higher than in the white potato, making the dasheen seem slightly sweet by comparison. Like other taros, it is held by many to be easy of digestion as compared with most other starchy foods.
In the United States, the dasheen is at present grown exclusively as an upland crop, that is, not under flooded conditions as other taros are usually grown in Hawaii. The crop requires about seven months of warm frostless weather fully to mature. It has been grown with best results in a moist but well-drained rich sandy loam. Heavy soils produce a low quality of corm and tuber, and often a poor yield. Muck soils, if they contain a moderate amount of moisture, usually produce a heavy crop of dasheens but of poor quality for table use. Dry soils of any kind are useless for dasheens.
Planting should be made in the early spring, just so that the last spring frost will be past before the plants are up. In central Florida, it is made about the middle of March and farther north, up to early April. Cormels, or "tubers," two to four ounces in weight, are generally used for planting, although smaller ones may be used. Larger tubers, small corms, or the upper parts of larger corms may also be planted when available. The character of soil is of greater importance than the size of tuber planted. The tuber is planted about 2 inches below the surface. The plants are spaced 4 by 3 or 3 1/2 by 3 1/2 feet, on level ground except where there is danger from standing water, when planting should be done on ridges. With level planting the soil is gradually drawn toward the plants in cultivating during the latter half of the season. The large leaves shade the ground almost completely by midseason if the soil conditions are good.
The crop matures in late October and early November in the southern United States. Harvesting is performed with a spade or with team and plow. Dasheens keep well when properly handled and stored. The entire subject is treated at length in bulletins of the United States Department of Agriculture. CH
- Do you have cultivation info on this plant? Edit this section!
- Do you have propagation info on this plant? Edit this section!
Pests and diseases
- Do you have pest and disease info on this plant? Edit this section!
- Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, by L. H. Bailey, MacMillan Co., 1963