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Araliaceae: Architectural Plants At Their Best - Our Top Choices!

Araliaceae, the ginseng family of flowering plants, comprises of approximately 700 species centred in Southeast Asia and tropical America.

Some genera, such as Hedera (the ivies), Fatsia (Japanese aralias) and Schefflera (the umbrella trees), are used as ornamental foliage plants. The family also includes Panax ginseng, the root of which is ginseng, used in traditional Chinese medicine.

With so many different types of Araliaceae plants to choose from, here are our choices to help you on your way or maybe to add to your current collection this season.

Metapanax davidii

(Syn. Acanthopanax bockii, Acanthopanax davidii, Dendropanax davidii, Nothopanax davidii)

Metapanax davidii are evergreen shrubs to small trees with glossy leaves that may be simple or compound. They have large, open sprays of small, greenish flowers which are followed by black berries. Metapanax is native to southern China and Vietnam.

M. davidii is a slow-growing, medium to large, evergreen shrub. The leaves may be simple, or divided into two or three lobes, or leaflets. Large terminal sprays of small, pale green, ivy-like flowers are followed by flat, black berries. Grow in moist but well-drained soil in full sun or semi shade with shelter from cold winds. Late frost may damage young foliage Hardy to -5c to -10c.

Metapanax davidii

Schefflera macrophylla

S.Macrophylla are native to southeast Asia, centred on north Vietnam . They can cope with winter temperatures of -5c. S.macrophylla leaves are huge and susceptible to wind damage. A south facing sheltered wall in dappled to strong light is best for this species. They make great glass greenhouse plants or larger orangery plants. Schefflera macrophylla is best described as a centrepiece specimen plant with its long petioles supporting broadly spreading leaves.

Schefflera macrophylla is hardy to -5c, but protection from hard frosts and wind is key to its winter survival.

Grow in well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade. Young plants may need to be kept frost-free, but will survive outdoors in most areas once up to 1m or so, if sheltered from cold, drying winds and hard frosts.

Schefflera macrophylla

Tetrapanax papyrifer

Tetrapanax papyrifer, the rice-paper plant, is an evergreen shrub in the family Araliaceae, the sole species in the genus Tetrapanax. It is endemic to Taiwan. It grows to 3 to 7 m tall, with usually unbranched stems 2 cm diameter bearing a rosette of large leaves at the top. The leaves are carried on 40 to 60 cm petioles, the leaf blade orbicular, 30 to 50 cm across, deeply palmately lobed with 5 to 11 primary lobes, the central lobes larger and Y-forked near the end. It spreads extensively by sprouts from the root system underground. The flowers are globular umbels near the end of the stem. The flowers have 4 or 5 small white petals. The fruit is a small drupe.

Can be hardy in well sheltered positions growing to heights of 3m. Loses its leaves in winter. Leaves can be huge and slightly furry up to 80cm wide. Large white flower heads around the end of autumn. Grow in part shade.

Tetrapanax papyrifer

Pseudopanax laetus

(syn. Neopanax laetus, Nothopanax laetus)

P. laetus forms a large, evergreen shrub or small tree with palmate leaves, each composed of five or seven glossy stalked leaflets up to 30cm long. The small, greenish-purple flowers appear in winter in umbels up to 20cm across followed on female plants that have been pollinated, by small purple-black fruit.

This plant occurs naturally in forest margins and scrubland and will there grow to 15ft in height. In cultivation it will grow happily either in the open or in dappled shade growing to 10ft in height and spread.

In common with all Pseudopanax, they can be found as epiphytes in their native New Zealand.

Pseudopanax laetus

Brassaiopsis mitis

B. mitis is native to the Himalayas, India, Nepal. B.Mitis is a deciduous, borderline hardy tree with a spiny trunk and sparsely spiny stems bearing palmate, mid- to dark green leaves, cut deeply approximately one-third from the leaf base, then divided into oblong to elliptic leaflets. Pendent yellow flower clusters occasionally bloom on mature plants in summer. Flowers are followed by purple-black fruit.

Grow in moist or moist but well-drained, neutral to acid soil in partial to full shade. Avoid direct, hot afternoon sun. Hardy to -10C. Shelter from cold, drying winds & protect from hard frosts. Apply a thick winter mulch in the coldest areas of its growing range. Under glass, grow in loam-based compost in bright filtered light. In growth, water moderately, feed monthly.

Brassaiopsis mitis - Photo by Karlostachys, CC 3.0

Schefflera alpina

S.alpina is a high altitude species from Vietnam. Its glossy leaflets radiate out in groups of seven leafs on long petioles. This is one of the hardier species of Schefflera to grow in the UK.

Growing at native altitudes of 2000 to 2500m it is hardy to -5c to -10. Grow in well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade and sheltered from strong winds.

Young plants may need to be kept frost-free, but will survive outdoors in most areas once up to 1m or so, if sheltered from cold, drying winds.

An architectural plant adding a tropical feel to any garden growing to 2m high with a spread of 1m.

Schefflera alpina

Fatsia polycarpa

Fatsia polycarpa is a species of flowering plant in the family Araliaceae, endemic to Taiwan, where it is threatened by habitat loss.

F. polycarpa is an evergreen shrub with large, rounded, deeply lobed, matt-green leaves to 30cm long. In early winter produces large, terminal inflorescences composed of ball-shaped clusters of creamy white flowers, followed by black berries in spring. Like Fatsia japonica, it can grow up to 3 to 5m tall in sun or partial shade.

Fatsia polycarpa - Photo by Karlostachys, CC 2.0

Schefflera rhododendrifolia

Schefflera rhododendrifolia, native to the Himalayas, has proven itself hardy outdoors in the British climate and is one of the hardiest of all Schefflera. It has palmate foliage grows to a large schrub hardy to -10c and is frost hardy to -5c. Growing as a small tree of exotic appearance, it requires a sheltered position in gardens, away from the very coldest areas or a bright spot out of direct sunlight.

Grow in well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade. Young plants may need to be kept frost-free, but will survive outdoors in most areas once up to 1m or so, if sheltered from cold, drying winds.

Schefflera rhododendrifolia

Kalopanax septemlobus

Kalopanax septemlobus has a highly exotic appearance, also called the tree aralia.

Kalopanax septemlobus, is a hardy, deciduous and highly ornamental tree. The leaves of K.septemlobus are highly variable in terms of how lobed they are. In autumn, the leaves turn vivid shades of orange and yellow before falling. As a relative of ivy, it produces pollinator-friendly flowers held in umbels, followed by black berries that attract birds. Stems are spiny when young, becoming less so as they mature. In gardens, it can either be left to grow into a large tree, or it can be cut back hard.

For best results, grow K.septemlobus in full sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil. It is known for attracting bees, insects, birds and other pollinators. It has nectar/pollen rich flowers and is a great addition to any exotic looking garden.

Kalopanax septemlobus - Photo by Dalgial, CC3.0

Schefflera taiwaniana

Schefflera taiwaniana is a species of flowering plant native to Taiwan, where it is scattered throughout coniferous forests at 2,000 to 3,000 m (6,600–9,800 ft). Growing to 4 m (13 ft) tall by 2.5 m (8.2 ft) broad, it is an evergreen shrub or small tree. Large leaves up to 15 cm (5.9 in) long are composed of up to 11 ovate leaflets arranged radially around a central stalk. Young leaves are covered in silver hairs, while mature leaves have a smooth surface. Sprays of flowers in late summer are followed by dark berries in winter..

This is a lovely edition to any subtropical garden, with a minimum temperature of -5 to - 10C, place in a sheltered location and this specimen plant won’t disappoint.

Grow in well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade. Young plants may need to be kept frost-free but it will survive outdoors in most areas once up to 1m or so, if sheltered from cold, drying winds. Hardiness is to -5 to -10c, can spread in sheltered conditions to 4m high by 3m wide.


At Exotic Earth Plants we try to stock some of these plants to compliment our beautiful Brugmansia , so please check the website frequently and sign up to the mailing list for updates.

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