“Aralia plants” are members of the Araliaceae family along with the Schefflera plant (umbrella tree), Fatsia, Hedera (aka English ivy) and others. Some are woody plants, some are herbs, some are vines and some are trees.
Included in this family is the genus, Polyscias pronounced (pol-is’-si-as) which we commonly call “Aralia.” This genus includes about 116 species of shrubs and trees native to tropical Asia and Polynesia.
Many of these plants are very useful as landscape plants in tropical parts of the world and some polyscias make great houseplants and office plants in less conducive climates.
In this article, we will look at some of the popular Aralia varieties used as houseplants. For example, the Fern Aralia (Polyscias filicifolia) and the Feather Aralia (Polyscias guilfoylei). Read on to learn more.
How Are Aralias Used?
As young plants, the popular Polyscias cultivars start out with fleshy, herbaceous growth. As they mature, they develop woody stems and grow into small shrubs.
In USDA hardiness zones 11 -12, these plants grow outdoors as single specimens or planted in rows for use as hedges.
Aralias also come and go in popularity but always make wonderful large office plants and are suitable as house plants if their size is controlled with regular pruning.
Their stems are easy to bend, shape and train to create character specimens or make interesting looking plants when grown as bonsai plants.
Aralias (Polyscias) may Look Different but all require the same basic care.
How To Care For Aralia?
Soil: These tropical plants grow best in well-drained, loamy, rich, acidic potting mix. A standard potting mix with some additional perlite added works well for container grown plants.
Light: In an indoor setting aralias like very bright, indirect lighting. When choosing an indoor location, look to a north window.
The plants enjoy morning sun. Avoid full sun for indoor plants. If kept outdoors during the warmer months, most Polyscias do well in partial shade to full sun.
Water: When watering your Aralia plant indoors, keep a close eye on the soil. When it is nearly dry, provide a thorough, deep watering.
Do not allow the plant to stand in water, and do not allow the soil to become completely dry.
Humidity & Temperature: These tropical plants enjoy high humidity, so it’s a good idea to set your container on a pebble tray to keep the ambient moisture levels high.
Some recommend daily misting as a good practice but I have not found the need. Keep the room temperature above 60° degrees Fahrenheit.
Pruning & Grooming: The plant reaches a maximum height of about eight feet tall and has a spread of two or three feet.
Unless you have unlimited space, it’s a good idea to keep indoor plants’ size under control with regular pruning of the branch tips.
This practice also encourages the plant to grow in a more bushy, dense manner. Use the cuttings to propagate more plants.
Flowers: The flowers grow in inflorescences of about six inches in length. In the wild, in the tropics flowers develop into a drupe. However, flowering is very unlikely to happen when the plant is cared for as a houseplant or in a less-than-tropical outdoor setting. [source]
Acclimation: Aralias make wonderful indoor plants once they are acclimated to their new surrounds. Much like the Ficus benjamina expect your polyscias to drop a large mass of leaves when moving indoors.
Be patient, DO NOT start watering heavy and fertilizing. Give the plant time to adjust to its new surroundings, lighting conditions and humidity levels.
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What Are The Most Popular Polyscias Varieties?
With so many Polyscias (Aralias) shapes, sizes and leaf types which ones do you choose from? Below are some of the most popular Polyscias (Aralias) on the market:
Polyscias crispa ‘Chicken Gizzard’ (Chicken Gizzard Aralia)
Polyscias crispa has several cultivars and one is the celery leaf aralia also known more in the trade as the chicken gizzard Polyscias. The grows upright and branches freely.
* Polyscias crispa ‘Palapala’ (Palapala Aralia)
The University of Florida describes this Aralia as:
“Palapala aralia is similar in branching habit and leaf characteristics except the leaflets are attractively patterned with dark green, golden yellow and ivory. Propagators should know that `Palapala’ is patented (plant patent number 3775).”
However, the patented plant #3775 as described in the actual patent document is of a sport from Polyscias (Aralia) balfouriana minifolia at Hoaks Nursery in Miami, Florida.
‘Palapala’ as described in the patent document:
Patented Aug. 26, 1975 3,775 ARALIA PLANT Joseph W. Hoak, 17040 SW. 90th Ave., Miami, Fla. 33157 Filed Apr. 8, 1974, Ser. No. 459,110 Int. Cl. A01h 5/00 US. Cl. Plt.-88 1 Claim This invention relates to a new and distinct variety of Aralia plant and is a result of a sport in the production of Polyscias (Aralia) balfouriana minifolia in Hoaks Nursery in Miami, Fla. The origin of the descriptive word minifolia in the recognized variety Polyscias balfouriana is unknown to the applicant, other than to say that it has been in general use by nurserymen in the South Florida area to describe an Aralia plant having smaller leaves than those of the balfouriana variety. I have named my new variety Aralia Palapala. This new variety has been asexually reproduced and propagated by cuttings for a period of over five years since the first mutation was discovered, with no reversal to the original variety, Polyscias balfouriana minifolia. This sport came about as a variant of a green Polyscias balfouriana minifolia that was growing in a shade house on the south end of Hoaks greenhouse and nursery in Miami, Fla When transplanted to the outside at the back of the greenhouse it was cut back. One year later one branch came back as a sport. After propagating this sport for about 5 years, cuttings were placed in a back slat house in cutting boxes. When of potting size, these were transplanted to inch pots and moved to Hoaks Silver Palm Nursery, Goulds, Fla. where they are at this time. [source]
Polyscias fruticosa (Ming Aralia)
The most popular of the Aralia plants grown reaching 6’ to 8’ feet indoors. An upright grower, finely-textured, unusual, twisted character with a lacy-looking specimen.
The exposed branches can be trained to create and add additional beauty to the ming Aralia.
Ming does best indoors with bright filtered light. Allow soil to dry between waterings. Aralia fruticosa is sensitive to cold temperatures.
Expect plants to drop leaves when temperatures fall into the 40°-55° degrees Fahrenheit range.
Polyscias fruticosa ‘Elegans’ (Parsley Aralia)
The leaves of this dwarf cultivar resemble the leaves of finely-divided parsley. This Polyscias produces small-leaves, compact with side shoots making “Parsley Aralia” a good choice for growing in small 4”-8” inch pots.
A bushy medium-sized bush, shrub, tree is often grown as a hedge is south Florida. Leaves often white and scalloped.
Several other cultivars of Aralia balfouriana include variegated ‘Marginata’ with creamy-white leaf borders. Another is the large-leaved variety ‘Pennockii.’
What Is Polyscias filicifolia (Fernleaf Aralia)?
Fern-leaf Aralia (Polyscias filicifolia) is a free-branching, broad-leaved evergreen. With a much-divided leaf, filicifolia is one of the best varieties to use in simulating dwarf trees.
Fernleaf grows quicker, has light, graceful leaves, with a deep green color making it very pretty as a small, young plant.
As the plant matures, the fernleaf can be trained into an attractive indoor tree. If you live in an area that does not experience frost (ever) you can plant Fernleaf Aralia as a hedge or as an accent plant outdoors. [source]
The shape of Aralia filicifolia leaves can vary with one plant making for some interesting looks. On young plants, the lance-shaped leaves with very jagged edges appear very “fern-like.”
As the plant matures, the leaves broaden and become more oval in shape.
Polyscias filicifolia grows wild:
- Southern Malaysia
- Solomon Islands
- New Caledonia
- New Guinea
In the United States, the fernleaf aralia is cold hardy in USDA hardiness zones 11 and 12.
What Is Polyscias guilfoylei (Feather Aralia)?
Like the Fernleaf Aralia, Feather Aralia (Polyscias guilfoylei) grows as a small tree or shrub and makes an interesting indoor plant for the office or the home.
In appearance, however, the plants look quite different. This Aralia stands very upright and has a less dense growth habit than the fern variety. Its leaves are dark green and rather coarse. [source]
Feather Aralia is not especially attractive as a young plant as it never develops the delicate appearance of the fern leafed variety.
However, with Polyscias guilfoylei patience pays off. When the feather Aralia matures it becomes a very handsome plant and well suited to being trained into an attractive bonsai.
This plant is known by several common names including:
- Featherleaf Aralia
- Geranium Aralia
- Feather Aralia
- Black or Blackie Aralia – A strong upright grower, dark green almost “black” leaves held on sparsely branched stems. The unique leaves have a wrinkled texture.
- Lace Aralia
Blackie is a fairly fast grower, especially when you keep fed regularly. It tends to shed leaves, making room for more new shoots.
As with its cousin, regular pruning keeps the plant’s size under control. Systematic pruning of side shoots results in a good-looking, small tree. [source]
What Is The Best Setting For Geranium Aralia?
As with all members of the Aralia family, Black Aralia likes to be kept well away from radiators and other dry heat sources.
Bright, indirect indoor light, good humidity levels, and consistently warm temperatures result in success with this plant.
If you are worried about the fast growth rate of these plants, withhold light somewhat.
Position the plant a little farther from the window or give it “breaks” in a less well-lit, slightly cooler setting from time-to-time as a way of systematically stunting its growth.
Just take care to keep the humidity levels high enough to discourage spider mites.
How Much Fertilizer And Water Does Blackie Need?
Because the plant does have large, basal leaves, it tends to lose quite a bit of water via transpiration.
For this reason, it’s handy to set these plants up with a self-watering container or system so the plant never dries out entirely.
In the summer months, you can feed Geranium Aralia weekly; however, you may wish to feed less if excessive growth is a concern.
What Pests Problems Do Aralia Plants Have?
When well-cared for these plants do not have serious problems with disease or insect infestation. Keep an eye out for pests such as:
- Mealybugs sucking the plant juices
- Whiteflies (Learn how to get rid of whiteflies)
- Aphids (aka Plant Lice) – Tips on Getting Rid of Plant Lice
- Armored Plant Scale
Be scrupulous in your watering practices as too much water can cause root rot, and too little water can attract mites.
This is true of all Aralias, and in fact, Aralia care is pretty much the same for all varieties.
Aralia Care Instructions
How Do You Deal With Aralia Pests And Diseases?
Spider mites are the main enemy of all Aralias. If you allow the soil to dry out completely and/or fail to keep the humidity levels surrounding the plants high enough, spider mites will move in.
If you see spider mites on your Aralias or any other houseplant, isolate the affected plant immediately.
Spider mites are fast moving and will travel from plant-to-plant rapidly if given the chance.
Treat affected plants by spraying vigorously with pressurized water.
Spray the undersides of leaves especially well as this is where spider mites tend to stay and to lay their eggs. Plan to repeat this treatment several times to knock “all” the mites off.
Treating with a Neem oil spray will help keep them off. Remember to mist your plants frequently to create an unwelcoming environment for spider mites.
How Do You Propagate Aralias?
Start cuttings at any time of year, but as with most plants, early spring (May) is the best time.
When you prune your plant, keep a few shoots – either softwood or hardwood – to use as cuttings..
Softwood cutting should have between two and four leaves. If using a hardwood cutting, you should remove all leaves.
Apply a good hormone rooting powder to the cuttings as Aralia plants are notoriously slow to root otherwise.
Place each cutting in its own small pot with a good, loamy, rich, well-draining potting mix.
NOTE: I’ve always had success with a well-draining propagating mix of equal parts peat moss and perlite.
Be sure to place the cutting in a pot large enough to accommodate the plant as it grows into a young plant. Avoid moving plants around until plants root and become established.
Set the pots in a warm (70°-78° degrees Fahrenheit) humid area with bright, indirect sunlight.
Keep ambient humidity levels high, but don’t mist the cuttings as this will cause rot.
Be sure to protect the cuttings from drafts. Covering them with plastic is a good idea to keep the humidity level high and to prevent draft damage.
How To Transplant Aralia Plants?
Interestingly, transplanting is not advised. These Aralia plants do not like being disturbed.
It’s best to start cuttings out in pots that can accommodate them as small plants for quite some time.
If/when transplanting becomes necessary, gently remove plants from their pots trying to not disturb the roots and at the right time of year. Springtime is best for transplanting.
When transplanting, choose a generously sized container that will allow the Aralia to stay in the same pot for a long time.
Choose the location for the container carefully so it will not need to move your plant unnecessarily as they simply do not take well to being moved around.
However, a ¼ turn every week will help plants receive even lighting.
Using a larger container will help prevent allowing the soil from drying out. This helps keep ambient humidity levels high and discourages spider mites.
Where And How Can You Buy Aralias?
In the United States, Aralias have been grown in southern Florida since the 1960’s but became more mainstream as a nursery item in the mid-1970’s.
Since that time, the number of Aralia cultivars available for purchase has grown from about half a dozen to more than two dozen.
Many are hardy enough to be used in the semi-tropical landscapes of the Sunshine State.
Until recently, it has only been possible to purchase mature Aralias in larger pots. However, you’ll find a wide variety of Aralia plants available in 4” – 8” inch pots online, mostly grown as bonsai plants.
The most popular and most readily available of these seems to be the Ming Aralia (Polyscias fruticosa).
Aralias In A Nutshell
Though Aralias may be slow starters, once they have made it through their first year they tend to pick up speed and grow quite enthusiastically.
Regular pruning helps keep them under control and can yield very interesting bonsai-like results.
NOTE: Try bending the canes to create some unique looks.
As tropical plants, Aralias do require regular care in terms of watering and feeding.
Unlike many houseplants which you can allow to dry out completely and then watered thoroughly.
You must take care not to allow Aralias to become completely dry.
It is important to keep an eye on humidity levels and provide the right amount of humidity to keep foliage lush and spider mites at bay.
You may want to add a humidifier to your room with an Aralia, and you will find this makes the ambient atmosphere more inviting to you, too.
In addition to needing close attention to moisture and humidity settings, Aralias also need a bit of grooming and pruning to keep them looking good.
Because Aralias are tropical plants, you should not consider keeping them unless you can provide a consistently warm, humid, well-lighted setting.
If you have a bright, sunny, spacious room where the temperature never falls below 60° degrees Fahrenheit, you have a good place for a Fern leaf, Feather leaf or ming Aralia.
Aralias are very fine plants for any indoor setting with plenty of space and lots of bright, indirect light.
The large varieties make great mall, office, and houseplants. In addition to Fern and Feather Aralias, there are many more fascinating varieties to explore.
These smaller versions are especially well-suited to bonsai treatment.