Widely seen in older gardens within Australia, Polyscias are highly regarded overseas as valuable and adaptable garden plants. Landscape architect and horticulturist Arno King investigates why these plants are so popular and worth considering in your garden.
Polyscias, or 'Aralias' as they are often called, have proven themselves in warm climates to be hardy, long lived, low maintenance plants that survive flood and drought and provide dense screening in the most difficult of locations. Yet despite these attributes, they are not readily available from garden centres in Australia.
The name Polyscias means 'many shaded', referring to the multiple leaflets on the leaves. The most recent revision lists some 159 species found in the forests of the Indian subcontinent, Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands. Many species are tall trees, and although occasionally seen in cultivation, this article focuses on those shrubby species that are most widely grown in gardens. Formerly these plants were included in the genus Panax and before this in the genus Aralia – both these names have persisted as common names and in older references.
Coming in a variety of colours, from deep blackish greens, to mid greens and yellowish greens; with variegations of white, cream and yellow; with broad or finely divided leaves; and from small trees to dwarf shrubs, many people may not have realised that all these plants are all related. What links them is their growth habit, hardiness and durability.