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What is a Japanese Aralia?

By Deborah Walker
Updated May 16, 2024
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Fatsia japonica, or Japanese aralia, is one of three species of evergreen shrub in the Fatsia genus of the Araliaceae family. This species is native to southern Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. It may be kept as houseplant or in a container garden throughout most of the world. It is propagated both from seed and cuttings. Japanese aralia is an easy-to-grow plant that is resistant to most plant diseases and pests.

The Japanese aralia plant is also known as glossy-leaved paper plant, false castor oil plant, and fig-leaf palm. It grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones seven to ten. This means that the lowest tolerable temperature for this plant is 0° Fahrenheit (-17.7° Celsius). This species of Fatsia grows best in sun, light shade, or partial shade and in an area that is protected or one with northern exposure. Japanese aralia can be grown in moist, well-drained soil that has a pH level ranging from 6.1 to 7.8, or mildly acidic to mildly alkaline.

On average, Japanese aralia grow to heights between 10 to 12 feet (3-3.6 meters). The huge, leathery, green leaves have seven to nine bluntly serrated lobes that are between 8 to 19 inches (20-50 cm) across. Mature plants produce clusters of small cream-to-tan colored blooms from late summer through the middle of fall, and sometimes into early winter. Flowers grow on a long white stalk. In late winter, Japanese aralia bears bright green fruit, which turn black before dropping.

Gardeners may use the shrub as a patio plant in warm and cold climates. In cold climates, it must be brought inside during the winter or when the temperature dips below zero. When planted in garden bedding, the plant's foliage is often used as a focal point. Multiple Japanese aralia in the same bedding should be spaced between 10 to 12 feet (3-3.6 meters) apart.

This shrub can be propagated via cuttings from woody stems, soft wood, or cuttings from semi-hardwood. New plants can also be started from seed. If seeds are used, they should be started indoors prior to the last frost. In spring, the seedlings can be transplanted after the last frost.

Japanese aralia is very easy to care for. To keep it thriving, mist it with lime-free water two or three times a week. The leaves can be cleaned using a damp cloth. This plant is prone to spider mites, aphids, and scale. Whenever a plant is ill or infested, it should be isolated from other plants and treated with the appropriate insecticide. Keeping plants healthy is generally the best defense against pests and disease.

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