Care Diary: Alocasia “Okinawa Silver” vs Variegated Alocasia odora

Alocasia okinawa silver august 2020

Written ByJen Greene

Posted: January 6, 2021

Alocasia “Okinawa Silver” is a beautiful form of variegated Alocasia odora. There are two distinct types of variegated Alocasia odora (at least, as far as I understand); a typical variegated plant with cream to white variegation, and the silver, which has white to silvery variegation. The difference in variegation is very similar to the difference between Monstera deliciosa “Thai Constellation” and Monstera deliciosa “Albo”, although in my experience the difference isn’t quite so pronounced. I’ll show photos of this with more detail below.

I snagged my Okinawa Silver from @just_the_tip_plants on Instagram – an account I highly recommend following if you want rare plants! I’ve had my Alocasia less than a year, but it’s done extremely well. I’ll continue to update with more care diary posts as time goes on. 

Water & Basic Care Routine

Part of why I love this plant is that it is so. damn. easy. to take care of! I keep it in a slightly shadier area than my Monstera deliciosas, as the white areas of the leaves crisp pretty quickly with more light. The spot is very sheltered, nestled between the wall of our kitchen and bonus room. It gets a couple hours of morning sunlight, at most, and is shaded the rest of the day.

I water my Alocasia Okinawa Silver only slightly more often than my monsteras, and with cold weather and occasional rain in winter, that’s dipped to almost never. In summer, I found myself needing to water it nearly every day during the hottest parts of the year, and more moderate weather was more like once or twice a week. Alocasias in general are relatively heavy feeders, and during the warm months, this was no exception. I tried to feed at least every other week with a dilute fish emulsion, and added earthworm castings to the top of the soil around mid summer. While I had my Anthuriums nearby, I also would feed the Alocasia with dilute orchid food as a once a month supplement.

I found my silver to be a fairly “expressive” plant. Not enough fertilizer? Yellowing leaves or full leaf drop. Too much water? Droopy leaves. Not enough water? Droopy leaves. The yellowing leaves or slowed growth were the easiest to tell that I hadn’t been as consistent with fertilizer as I should be. The species is quite fast growing, and develops large, showy leaves as it matures, so slowed growth is noticeable. 

 

Alocasia okinawa silver august 2020

My mother plant with one of her prettier leaves. Don’t mind the bits of berry that the bird shared with it. 

The Battle for Pretty Leaves

The hard part about keeping a humidity-loving plant outdoors is that any fluctuations in weather will impact how your leaves look. The other aspect that makes this challenging is that the white in the leaves will brown and crisp no matter what you do; the white part has no chlorophyll or any sort of useful abilities aside from being pretty, and the plant tends to give up on it pretty quickly.

The white portions of the leaf also don’t tend to get as big or normal looking as the green part of the leaf, so I frequently have lopsided leaves.  Looking over at Ken’s Nursery, his seem to have some of the same effect, but I also don’t see photos of plants with as much white on the leaves as mine did this summer.

Why are the white leaves always so beat up? 

Because I keep my Alocasia Okinawa Silver outdoors, it gets exposed to wide swings in temperature, humidity, and animal abuse from wagging dog tails, an ongoing problem with rats, and our bird showering the leaves with bits of the berries he likes to eat. These rampant fluctuations tend to result in crispy leaves much more rapidly than if it were kept sheltered indoors, or in a greenhouse. 

The white leaves tend to “age” faster than all-green leaves due to the lack of chlorophyll to keep them going. Without plenty of green on the leaves, the plant can’t produce enough energy to sustain itself, and will absorb nutrients from the oldest leaves (turning them yellow and then crisping off) to produce new leaves. Something that those beautiful Instagram or Pinterest posts always seem to gloss over is that plants with white leaves never look pretty or perfect for long. At best, with my Okinawa, it looks great for at least a week, sometimes as much as a month, and then the edges start to brown. The more sheltered I keep it (from wind/weather fluctuations), while also keeping it somewhere that is bright enough, the better it does. 

I’ve come to accept and embrace that the older the leaf, the more beat up it will be. Maybe as I keep it for a longer period of time, I’ll figure out how to keep those leaves perfect all the time, but I have a deep suspicion that without a greenhouse or tropical conditions…that’s just not going to happen. 

Alocasia Okinawa Silver

These are some of the first leaves it produced in my care; plenty of green, so the leaves developed good size and fueled more growth. You’ll notice on the bottom the beginning of crispiness that inevitably happens. Photo is from July 2020.

Where did the Alocasia “Okinawa Silver” get its name – and how is it different from other variegated odoras?

Figuring this out has been a bit of a wild goose chase. I picked up my plant simply because I liked it and Kevin from @just_the_tip_plants was offering it for local pickup only. Around the same time (May/June/July) I saw variegated Alocasia odoras being listed on Facebook and Instagram, but for less than my Silver. With the plant bubble growing, soon variegated odoras were just as much if not more than the Silver, and any time I had a pup of my plant available, it was sold within minutes of being posted.

What gives? Are they even different?

Short answer: yes. As I noted at the beginning of this post, the main difference is in the type of variegation. Silvers are a white/silver variegation, while regular variegated odoras are more of a cream/yellow/white. The reason for this difference is which cells/cell layers are lacking in pigment. I’ll review this in more detail if I can get a plant biologist or scientist to help me out – most of my understanding is from a lot of reading of science papers + talks at my local cactus and succulent society.

Okinawa Silver in particular is a form that was discovered by Dr. Masato Yokoi of Japan, and introduced to the US by Barry Yinger. The late Dr. Masato Yokoi discovered a ton of variegated plants, and published numerous books as well as collected patents for his discoveries. In talking with Kevin about the plant, he mentioned that it was thought that Okinawa Silver may even be a different species/subspecies. I’m still hunting for information published by Dr. Masato Yokoi that is in English or can be linked to, and if I find it, I’ll update here. 

Telling the two variegations apart can be pretty difficult, especially if you’re raising plants outdoors and get very pale variegated odoras (as I was). My regular variegated odora died during an unexpected heat wave late in the fall, so my only photos are of the young plant and immature leaves. 

Variegated Alocasia Odora

This is a baby variegated Alocasa odora that was a sport from a freebie plant included in a shipment. It was this plant that spurred my research into what the difference was in the first place! 

alocasia okinawa silver

This is one of my baby Okinawa Silvers sharing the pot with the mother plant. 

How to tell the difference between the two: a guide to best guessing

First and foremost, if you’re not sure which type of Alocasia odora you have, don’t use this to try and claim you have the more expensive type and sell it for more money. That’s shitty, and you should feel bad for being a bad person. 

But! If you’re trying to figure out which type you have because you love it and you’re curious, here you go. 

1: The super stripey stem

The stem’s intense stripes seem to be what catch people’s eyes all the time. Even the babies have clear striping, and compared to the regular variegated odoras, the striping is much more pronounced. You can see this intense striping in nearly every photo I’ve posted where the stems are visible. Above, the comparison of the two types somewhat shows a more blurred stem of the baby variegated odora. 

variegated alocasia comparison

#2: Color of the leaves…maybe

The photo above shows me holding my baby variegated odora next to the okinawa silver to try and compare the exact hue of the white on the leaves. The photo was taken in the morning, with morning light, so things are washed with a bit of a yellow hue to them. Even on my color balanced computer screen here at home (using a color/light meter and everything!) they look pretty darn close in color. 

This makes identifying particular shades of white rather difficult. If I’d been thinking of blogging about this last summer, the smart thing to have done would have been to do a white-balanced photo of the two next to each other with controlled lighting. The photo is untouched up and shows what the camera sensor captured, and should also help demonstrate why you can’t just take a picture of your plant and post it to the internet to ask which type it is. Lighting, camera quality, and time of day will impact this. 

Instead, all we have is this photo I took to send to a friend while we were trying to figure it out. Ah well. 

For a better comparison of the “shade” of white, below is a photo of the silver next to my distinctly yellow/cream variegated Thai constellation. 

silver vs cream variegation

Without photo editing, fancy lighting, or situation tweaking to get things to look as perfect as possible, the colors of variegation STILL look close. 

If you look closely, though, you can see that the Monstera’s yellow/white areas are definitely creamy, with variations in the shade of the yellow/white. The odora, on the other hand, is almost flat by comparison where the white area is fully white. Like the baby odora photos further up, this photo was also taken in the shade, in the morning, so the ambient colors are the same. The difference is clearer in person, although not “well of course” levels of different. 

The difference in the two is that white variegation is completely lacking in ANY sort of leaf pigment. Yellow variegation still has one pigment, but not the rest – I think it’s the betalains, but finding sciencey articles about it and not regurgitated blog info of plant people talking about their albos is hard.  

I’ve also noticed that my Okinawa Silvers, compared to yellow variegated odoras and to the Thai constellation, seem to have an almost transparent quality to large white portions of the leaves. You can see this effect somewhat in the photo above, as well as on Ken’s Nursery photos where the the brightness isn’t completely blown out on the image. I’d suspect that it’s due to the complete lack of pigment, but I’d defer to an expert to tell me more. 

#3: Last and least, leaf shape. 

Compared to regular Alocasia odoras, the silvers seem to consistently have a narrower leaf form, especially if there are large patches of white on the leaf. 

You’ll notice nearly all of mine have more of a narrow heart shape appearance, rather than the nearly circular heart shape of a typical Alocasia odora. 

This is a photo of a normal Alocasia odora. Big, wide, round leaves with ruffles. 

Compare to Ken’s Nursery, both the first and last images of the leaves. 

This one at Steve’s Leaves looks like there’s green on the white, so you don’t get quite the weird squished heart, and may be proof that the leaf shape isn’t even a thing. 

Google pulled up this photo from Tennessee Tropicals of what’s labeled as just a variegated Alocasia Odora, although the lighting isn’t set up well enough to be sure if it’s an odora or just a lost silver. 

Then there’s this thread with plants that look like they could be either, and plenty of round or not round leaves. 

So leaf shape is up in the air. If you know for sure, please share! I am still undecided, personally. 

Alocasia Okinawa Silver

Tah dah, here is my Alocasia “Okinawa Silver” in all its beat up winter glory. No new leaves are being produced right now, although I suspect that will change as the days get longer. 

You can see all the crispiness of the white portions of the leaves, although the leaves with a higher proportion of green have stayed pretty. I’m no longer fertilizing it, and it’s shown itself to be fairly cold tolerant. 

Fantastic plants and one of my favorites. I occasionally offer pups for sale, which you can hear about first by joining my mailing list, or following me on Instagram @trexplants! 

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