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A Bleeding Warrior - Elephant's Ear (Macaranga tanarius)

Originally published in Green Country, Issue 113(Apr 2015)

It holds its shield like a spirited warrior. It has bloodstains all over its body, as if after a fierce war. The Elephant’s Ear (Macaranga tanarius) is evergreen, with a large canopy. You can often find these trees in urban areas or beside beaches. You may have stopped below the canopy of Elephant’s Ear for shade, but never knew about this warrior.

It is really shocking and sorrowful to see the broken branches of an Elephant’s Ear. This is because some red liquid flows out from some of these branches, just like a person bleeding. Hence its Chinese name, which means bloody tree. When the white tree sap of Elephant’s Ear comes into contact with air, it turns blood red after oxidation, just like rusting, as if it is "bleeding". However, please don’t snap the branches deliberately just to see it "bleed", because this would harm the tree, making it susceptible to infection by pathogens. In serious cases, the whole tree may even die. If you really want to see the red liquid, you can watch out for fallen branches, e.g. those broken in strong winds.

Elephant’s Ear is a local broad-leaved tree belonging to the Family Euphorbiaceae. You can find it in places like Guangdong, Fujian and Taiwan. It is evergreen; it flowers between May to June, and it bears fruit from July to August. It grows well in places which are warm with sufficient sunlight. Though it cannot stand cold weather, it can bear high salinity and strong winds. So Elephant's Ears can be easily found either on roadsides in the city or on coastal areas.

The warrior's shield & The elephant's ear

The Elephant’s Ear can be very easily recognised because of its big peltate leaves. As the petiole is in the middle of the leaf, not on the edge, the leaf looks even more like a shield. Looking at an Elephant’s Ear from far away when the wind blows, the leaves look like elephants' flapping ears. Hence the plant is called Elephant’s Ear in English. Elephant’s Ear grows best between 20℃ and 30℃. With its big leaves and dense canopy, the tree is like a beautiful umbrella, which also provides good shade.

Its light and soft wood can be used for making many different things, like matches. Its flowers are small and green, and grow in clusters. Every spring, the small flowers poke out bashfully between leaves. In summer the plant bears fruits with a lime green skin and soft prickles. Each fruit has about 2 to 3 black seeds. When a fruit ripens, the skin bursts and releases the seeds. This attracts many birds to eat them.

The tree "bleeds" when a branch is broken.
©Henry Lui
The leaf is like a shield.
The petiole is in the middle of the leaf.
© Henry Lui
Fruit are covered with soft prickles.
© Henry Lui
Small green flowers

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