The Xanthosoma species are plants of the tropical rain forest and, although in their natural habitat they grow under the forest canopy, under cultivation they are usually sown with full exposure to sunlight. They require well-drained soils and do not tolerate the permanent presence of water. The usable parts are the subterranean tuberous stems which have a nutritional value comparable to the potato and are probably easier to digest. A secondary use is of consumption of the young leaves, similar to spinach. Leafy species of Xanthosoma not grown for tubers are called belembe and calalous. There are actually two different malangas: Malanga blanca (Xanthosoma sagittifolium), considered the true malanga, which grows on dry land. The other is malanga amarillo (Colocasia esculenta) which grows in wet bog-like areas. Cultivars with purple stems or leaves are also variously called Blue Taro, Purple Taro, Purplestem Tannia, and Purple Elephant's Ear among others.
Edible tubers (cormels) are formed in the soil at the base of the plant. A central large tuber (corm) is formed, with a cluster of cormels, grayish brown to black lateral tubers, around it. Malanga are about the size and shape of a regular white potato; they look a little like an overgrown gladiola bulb, because the outside skin of the malanga is brown and somewhat hairy. It generally weighs 1/2 to 2 pounds, but can be heavier. The interior has an extremely crisp texture and can vary in color from cream, yellow or pink. Malanga is often milled into flour, since malanga is probably the most hypoallergenic food in the world. Even persons with extensive allergies should do very well with this flour. The starch grains are the smallest and most easily digested of all complex carbohydrates. Malanga flour is used as a substitute for wheat flour to make cookies, quick breads, and similar items.
Rare and hard-to-find, Xanthosoma albomarginata has beautiful variegated foliage that is mottled in white and hues of green. The tips of the leaves have a curious cupped formation. Plants reach 3-5' tall.