What Is an Aralia Plant?

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An aralia plant could be any one of the 84 genera of the aralia family, including vines, trees, shrubs and herbs, or it could be a plant commonly called "aralia." Bold foliage characterizes aralia plants, and varieties are available that thrive in most garden conditions and in containers indoors and outside. The largest group of plants in the aralia family carry the scientific name Polyscias but are usually called aralias.

Large Shrubs

  • The aralia family includes many large, deciduous shrubs, including angelica tree (Aralia elata) and devil's walking stick (Aralia spinosa). Angelica tree grows 12 to 18 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide and produces 2- to 4-foot-long leaves in an umbrellalike canopy. Each leaf carries up to 80 or more leaflets that are 3 to 4 inches long and have toothed margins. Devil's walking stick is named for the strong, sharp spines that appear along the plant's branches, stems and leaf stalks. Growing 10 to 20 feet tall and 6 to 10 feet wide, this aralia also produces an umbrellalike canopy, with leaves 2 to 5 feet long and 2 to 4 feet wide. Both shrubs grow in full sun or partial shade and thrive in moist, fertile soil but tolerate rocky and clay soils. Angelica tree and devil's walking stick are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9.

Houseplants

  • Several kinds of aralia plants can be grown outdoors or as houseplants. Fern-leaf aralia (Polyscias filicifolia) and Ming aralia (Polyscias fruticosa), for example, are hardy outdoors year-round in USDA zones 11 through 12 and can grow indoors in all climate zones. Both plants are evergreen and grow best in well-drained peaty and sandy potting soil in a bright spot that doesn't receive afternoon sunlight or direct sunlight for more than two or three hours per day. Fern-leaf aralia is named for its fernlike, deeply cut, jagged-edged young foliage, which matures to a broader, fuller appearance, and Ming aralia leaves are finely segmented with spiny-toothed margins. Water both plants when their soil is almost dry.

Japanese Varieties

  • Large leaves are features of Japanese aralia plants. One of them, a perennial aralia, Japanese spikenard "Sun King"(Aralia cordata "Sun King"), bears bright-gold leaves in a partially shade site and lime-green leaves in full shade. Hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9, "Sun King" grows 29 to 35 inches tall. Another large-leaved aralia is the glossy-leaved paper plant, also called Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica, Aralia sieboldii and Aralia japonica). It is a commonly grown foliage plant that's hardy in USDA zones 8 through 10 and thrives in full or partial shade. Bearing deeply lobed leaves up to 16 inches wide, this evergreen shrub grows 6 to 16 feet tall and wide outdoors and also grows well indoors. Both of these aralias require a sheltered site and moist soil.

Variegated Specimens

  • Aralia plant varieties include shrubs with variegated foliage. Balfour aralia (Polyscias pinnata), for example, produces leaves that are 4 to 8 inches long and light, glossy green with milk-white margins. Hardy in USDA zones 10b through 11, this shrub grows 6 to 10 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide in an upright, dense form. Another plant with variegated foliage is the five-fingered or fiveleaf aralia "Variegatus" (Eleutherococcus sieboldianus "Variegatus"), which bears bright-green leaves edged in white. A sharp thorn grows below each leaf. Growing 6 to 8 feet tall and wide, "Variegatus" is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9. Both shrubs grow in full or partial shade and most soil types.

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