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Why Do Elephant Ear Plants Drip Water?

Why Do Elephant Ear Plants Drip Water?

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While you’re adoring the large, heart-shaped foliage of your elephant ear plant, you might notice a few drops of water running down the margin. You might also spot a crusty, white residue later when the drops dry up.

Is it dew? Is your plant weeping? Is it stressed?

Thankfully, water dripping from elephant ear plants doesn’t mean you’re a bad plant parent. Odds are, it’s due to a natural process called guttation.

Elephant ear plants, and many other tropical plants, regulate their water content by secreting excess moisture from their leaves at night. Guttation often occurs when the air is very humid or when the soil is too wet. 

In this article, I’ll cover the natural process of guttation, why it happens, how it helps keep plants healthy, and when you should consider it a warning sign. 

What Causes Water Droplets on Indoor Plant Leaves?

Plants are a lot more intricate than we often give them credit for, and they have their ways of taking care of themselves. Dripping water from their leaves is just one of those ways.

Water droplets can form on the leaves of indoor plants for a couple of reasons (including harmless dew). Often, with elephant ear plants, the reason is that they are getting rid of excess water via guttation.

Here’s a little fun fact for you: The term “guttation” stems from the Latin word for a drop, “gutta.”

But to really understand guttation, we need to go over some basics.

Respiration and Transpiration

Photosynthesis Diagram

You’ll remember from science class that the ingredients for photosynthesis are sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water.

Plants absorb sunlight and carbon dioxide. Then, they take up water via their roots and pipe it up the stem and into the leaves, where photosynthesis takes place.

Now, the process itself is a sort of cellular respiration. There are some oxidation (losing electrons) and reduction (gaining electrons) reactions going on there. But I won’t bore you with the chemistry of it all.

The gist of it is that the plant ends up with some sugar, which it can use as fuel.

However, photosynthesis only uses 10% of the water that enters the plant.

The rest? Under normal conditions, it’s pushed out of tiny holes (stomata) in its leaves. This process is called transpiration.

Transpiration cools the plant down (via the evaporative effect) and creates a vacuum that draws more water up through the plant’s roots, causing the cycle to keep going.

Usually, this happens during the day. That’s when the stomata are open.

What’s Up With Guttation?

Water Droplet On Elephant Ear Leaf

Guttation is a lot like transpiration because it involves water escaping from the leaves. However, there are key differences between transpiration and guttation.

I’ll go over a detailed comparison in a minute. But for now, it’s important to know they happen at completely different times.

Plants typically only guttate at night when plants’ stomata are shut.

Closed stomata = No evaporative transpiration

Yet, the plants are still taking up water. The result is a pressure build-up.

The way that plants cope with this is through guttation. As the pressure in their leaves increases, they expel the excess water through small holes along the leaf margins, called hydathodes.

The liquid that comes from guttation isn’t pure water, though. Instead, it’s xylem sap, which is mostly water with some minerals and organic compounds.

Guttation vs. Transpiration vs. Dew Formation

Okay, so there could be a couple of reasons why your elephant ear plant is dripping water, including dew and guttation.

I don’t think we need to dwell too much on dew. It’s just a simple condensation process—excess moisture in the air condenses on a cool surface.

Transpiration and guttation, though, can be tricky to figure out. Here’s a quick comparison to help you understand both processes better:

Loss FormNutrient-rich liquid water dropsPure water vapor
RegulationUncontrolledRegulated (stomata open and close)
HumidityIncreases guttation rateReduces transpiration rate

See, they can be easy to tell apart!

Drops that appear at night on the edges of the leaves (rather than on the surface) are typically the result of guttation.

Is Guttation an Elephant Ear Plant Thing?

In a word, no.

Sure, elephant ear plants are prone to guttation. But they aren’t the only plants that drip water from their leaves.

Monsteras, philodendrons, dieffenbachias, arums, caladiums, aglaonemas, anthuriums, and ZZ plants are all commonly known to guttate.

What do all these houseplants have in common?

Great question! They come from tropical regions of the world with warm, humid climates. If you scroll up to the comparison table, you’ll see that humidity actually increases guttation.

So, these plants need a way to deal with excess water when high humidity levels and flooded soils prevent natural transpiration. Guttation is a prime candidate!

Should I Worry About Guttation?

Overly Moist Soil

Not necessarily.

I mean, guttation isn’t a sign that your elephant ear is dying or anything. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind if you notice a repeating pattern.

Too Much Guttation Can Be a Warning Sign of Overwatering

The liquid drops can be a sign that the air is humid. This is normal during summer if you live in tropical or subtropical regions.

Guttation can also indicate that there is a lot of moisture in the soil.

Tropical plants do like a good dose of water, but too much can lead to problems like root rot.

Sadly, root rot can be fatal to elephant ear plants, so use guttation as an early warning sign to know when you are watering a bit too frequently.

The golden rule is to allow the soil adequate time to dry out before you water the plant again.

I’d also recommend looking for other red flags. Check your elephant ear for other signs of stress—yellowing leaves, stunted growth, moldy soil, or brown spots on the stem.

Guttation Could Lead to Bacterial Infections

The Integrated Pest Management program at the University of Missouri reports that there’s a small chance of bacterial infections due to guttation.

You see, bacteria might find an ideal environment in the nutrient-rich drops. Then, when the morning rolls around, the droplets could be “pulled back” into the leaf through the same hydathode opening, leading to an infection.

Luckily, plants have lines of defense to keep this from happening, so it’s a rare issue.

However, if your elephant ear does show signs of disease, you might want to consider guttation as a factor.

It’s Okay to See White Residue Later

Remember when we said that, unlike transpiration, guttation is the loss of non-pure water?

Well, the minerals and nutrients in the guttated water could leave behind a crusty residue on the margin or the tip of the leaf blade

Final Thoughts

Long story short, if your elephant ear is dripping water in the early morning, it’s likely dew—nothing to worry about here.

If the water is dripping at night, odds are, it’s from guttation.

Guttation itself is completely normal. In fact, plants guttate to prevent stress, especially when the air is muggy during summer.

However, it can be a sign that your elephant ear plant is getting too much water. Pay close attention to your watering routine and make the necessary adjustments if you suspect you are overwatering your plant.

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