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Growing Aralia elata
Japanese angelica tree
This is a small, suckering, deciduous shrub or tree which should not be underestimated as a garden ‘thug’. Its root suckers will appear yards from the original plant and, if these are not cut and dug out, you will soon find yourself with a prickly thicket of varying heights. Several new species of aralia have recently been introduced to the garden at Caerhays and they all have a suckering habit and just as nasty sets of spines on the stems as A. elata. For the moment this is the only species of this genus which we offer on the website. Its spines or prickles are not as bad as those on young Kalopanax but they are certainly enough to make you wear thick gloves when dealing with them.
A. elata leaves are gathered at the top of the stems which can grow to 20-30ft and sometimes become branched. The pinnate leaves are long and graceful achieving a length of up to 4ft with up to 80 or so ovate leaflets which are a paler green underneath. In autumn these turn an attractive yellow with us before they are blown away but, in hotter drier parts of the country, they can produce orange or purple autumn tints.
The flowers appear in August or September in large spreading panicles of up to 2ft across. The small white individual flowers are followed by black fruits.
A. elata ‘Aureovariegata’ is a far less vigorous and usually grafted (onto A. elata) plant which grows to around 6ft. It has great architectural value in a border or in a woodland context where its irregularly margined yellow leaflets stand out against darker evergreens. We have used these admittedly expensive plants on many or our Chelsea stands over the years to showcase their ornamental effect.
A. elata ‘Variegata’ has creamy white margins to its leaflets and a similar use in the garden as long as you can control the inevitable root suckers.