Schefflera actinophylla: Queensland Umbrella Tree

In the tropics one often sees beautiful plants whose dimensions, however, far exceed the bounds of house plants. This, of course, may not be true, for conditions in the wild and in cultivation are markedly different. Proof of this is Schefflera, which in its native Australia grows into a huge tree up to 40 m (135 ft) high, but specimens grown indoors rarely exceed 2 m (6 ft) in height.

More than 200 species, most of them quite similar, have been described to date. They are distributed in the tropics the world over but most are found in south-east Asia, the Australian region and northern South America. In the juvenile stage they often grow as epiphytes.

The leaves of the species are palmately compound, composed in the juvenile form of three, later five and in adult specimens of seven to sixteen leaflets, which are leathery, glossy, smooth, narrowly-ovate and pointed. In juvenile plants, the ones usually found in cultivation, they are rarely more than 15 cm (6 in) long; in adult specimens, however, the leaflets are up to twice that length.

In cultivation one sometimes comes across the species S. digitata (syn. S. cunninghamii, Aralia scheffieri). This is a small tree, sometimes only 5 m (16 ft) high, from New Zealand. The leaves are composed of seven to ten narrow, elongate leaflets about 15 cm (6 in) long. Young leaflets are often irregularly lobed.

Cultivation is comparatively simple, and schefflera, particularly in the juvenile stage, is excellent for room decoration in modern homes. For the first few years it requires higher temperatures, which even in winter should not drop below 16—18°C (61 to 65°F) for long periods. Older plants require less heat and for these the winter temperature should not be more than 18°C (65°F) or less than 12°C (54°F). Large specimens are more suitable for well-lit foyers or conservatories.

The growing medium should be moderately heavy, best of all a mixture of compost, peat, leaf mould, loam and sand. Propagation is by seeds obtained from a specialist supplier.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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