Dizygotheca elegantissima: Spider Aralia Plant, Splitleaf Maple

Members of the Araliaceae family are among the loveliest of foliage plants. Many have yet to find their way into cultivation, for instance the lovely plants of the genus Trevesia.

Dizygotheca elegantissima (syn. Aralia elegantissima) was introduced into cultivation in the late 19th century. The scientific name ‘elegantissima’ is fully merited for few plants can boast such airy and ‘architecturally’ perfect foliage. Its cultivation is not one of the easiest and thus there is never an overabundance of these plants on the market. It is generally propagated by seed, or by stem cuttings in a warm propagator in summer, or root cuttings in similar conditions in spring.

The species is from New Caledonia, the same as the other fifteen or so species of this genus, distributed throughout the South Sea Islands. In its native habitat it grows to the size of a small tree but this is far from being the case in Europe, where the largest specimens are only slightly more than 3 m (10 ft) high. The stem is upright and fairly stout, the leaves long-stalked, compound, composed of 7 to 11 leaflets, which are coloured olive-green with a red midrib, the tip and lateral teeth being likewise red. Also cultivated, but only rarely, are other species such as D. kerchoveana with broader leaflets, glossy green above and reddish below; D. veitchii, with leaflets that have a white midrib and sinuate margin; and its variety gracillima, which is only slightly smaller than the type species.

The requirements of D. elegantissima are often overestimated. It does very well in a warm and light room. Only very juvenile plants are delicate; these do better in a plant-case but after a time they may be placed freely in a room. The right choice of compost is important; it must be nourishing but light. A mixture of loam, compost, rotted turves, sand and peat is ideal. Alternatively, use John Innes potting compost No. 1. The plant appreciates frequent syringing of the foliage.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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