Schefflera aff. minutistellata

hardy schefflera

The genus Schefflera is well known to many people as a houseplant often called umbrella-tree or octopus plant. Plants in this genus are found throughout the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world and according to some estimates there are as many as 700 species. In due time the taxonomists are sure to break this wide genus up into several smaller groups. Schefflera can be evergreen trees, shrubs, or woody vines all with palmately compound leaves holding ovate leaflets like the spokes on a wheel.

In 2005 (?), Dan Hinkley gave a talk at the JCRA where he described, among dozens of other amazing plants, S. alpina from the mountains of Vietnam. He noted that it was hardy in warm temperate gardens and may grow in a protected spot in zone 7b. Since that time, I have been on a quest to find hardy schefflera to add their distinctly different texture to the garden.

In 2012, I visited the southern slopes of the Nanling Mountains in Guangdong Province, China. On the slopes of Shikeng Kong, the tallest peak in the province at over 6,200', the flora transitions from subtropical to warm temperate and that transition zone is where we often find the most exciting plants. As we moved up the mountain on a chilly, rainy October day climbing through Exbucklandia tonkinensis, Dichroa, maples, and rhododendron, we stumbled upon a fine textured schefflera in full fruit. We are pretty sure this is S. minutistellata but are waiting to see it in flower to make certain.

Schefflera minutistellata that we saw were shrubby plants to about 8' tall although they can grow to 25' trees if happy. Narrow leaflets to 8" long are borne in a whorl with the petiolules (leaflet stalks) having variable lengths. The shorter stalked leaflets are often held above the other leaflets for a two-tiered look. The foliage is thin compared to the thick, leathery foliage usually associated with the species. The blue-black fruit are carried in rounded umbels on tall, arching panicles for a quite showy effect. The flowers will be small and white to greenish-white but should be attractive against the evergreen foliage.

This schefflera will likely be at its best with some protection from afternoon sun and grown in a moist, well-drained, organic soil but should be fine in more shade. We have not trialed the plant outdoors for any length of time although one young plant survived 7.5°F last winter in the protection of the Lath House. Based on its growing companions of pines, maples, and rhododendron, I anticipate it to be perfectly hardy at least to zone 8 and quite possibly into zone 7. Young plants may be best grown indoors as a houseplant in a sunny window for a year or more as larger plants will be better able to recover from a hard freeze.

We are extremely happy to be able to offer this outstanding plant and over two dozen others in the JCRA's Connoisseur Plants program as a thank you to our higher-level members. You can join or upgrade your membership before December 31, 2014, to the Sponsor level ($300) or higher to take advantage of this program and the other benefits of membership. For more information check out our Web site.