A Taro is as sweet by any other name

Regarding the recent post by Julius on terminology for various edible
aroids, I have a minor addition from Hawaii. The full scientific name I see
in the literature out here for the thing called taro (or kalo) is Colocasia
esculenta (L.) Schott. Then again, I mostly read older stuff and I am just
an anthropoloogist, so tell me if the botanical world has revised this name.

There are over 300 names for taro varieties here, but it is thought that
many are local terms for single cuiltivars. It is also generally accepted
that there were easily over 100 varieties in the past, and Hawaii was more
into taro than most Polynesian cultures. All of the varieties are presumed
to fall under the sceintific name I gave above. Hawaiians also cultivated a
plant called ape (ah-pay), which is Alocasia macorrhiza. Historically,
Xanthosoma has been introduced, and is also called ape. Today, apes are
generally grown by Tongan and Samoan people who live in Hawaii, and not
Hawaiians themselves--taro is still number one.

The rule for Hawaiian taro is that any wetland taro can also be grown in
dryland conditions, but not the other way around. (By dryland, I mean only
that it is not in a pond--plenty of water is still required.) Some dryland
taro will rot when grown in a pond field. In recent history, dryland taro
has gotten something of a bad rap, but the fact is that dryland cultivation
can yield lareg, tasty corms. Tha advantage to wetland culture is that you
get nearly 8 times the yield per acre. The disadvantage is that you need
more investment in labor and infrastructure to begin, as well as a reliable
source of cool, clean water. (In a major court case, taro farmers are now
trying to get water returned to their valleys. It was diverted about 100
years ago for sugar plantations on the dry side of O`ahu, but the
plantations have shut down now. Developers want to keep the water flowing to
the dry side.)

A final note, if you read about taro here, the term dasheen (or araimo)
refers to varieties that produce small corms (smaller than fist sized) and
send out runners. I believe that most dasheen taro today derives from types
introduced to Hawaii from Asia. 

I am not a taxonomist or botanist, and lay no claim to knowing the proper
names for plants. It is probably useful, however, for those of you who may
read about Hawaiian taro to know this info.


The bosses said to add a disclaimer. So give them neither the credit or
blame for anything I say.
Also be advised they may read anything you write to me at this address.

Maurice Major			mmajor@bishop.bishop.hawaii.org
Department of Anthropology		Phone:	(808) 847-8282
Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum	FAX:	(808) 848-4132
1525 Bernice Street
Honolulu, HI 96817-0196

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