Question: I need help to identify this plant in my garden. I recently moved into a badly neglected house and this small tree (10′ or more) is growing beside the house with these strange spikes growing from the tips. A neighbor says it’s an Umbrella Plant and a nurseryman called it an Arboricola. This one doesn’t have any variegation on the leaves and is WAY taller than any Arboricola I’ve seen growing in this area before. Can you help?
Answer: The identity of your small tree is indeed a Shefflera arboricola. They are often sold with variegated leaves and frequently as a dwarf, but not always. You are probably accustomed to seeing this growing as a small tree. Too often plants are selected without regard to location including inadequate room to grow. By placing this evergreen too close together, it often requires frequent shearing to keep from blocking the sidewalk or dining room windows. However, left unattended, as this one has been, these plants can get 20 feet or taller. Excessive pruning also eliminates the chance to enjoy decorative flowers and fruit.
Thankfully your neglected arboricola is a very resilient plant, growing in a variety of conditions. It has few insect or disease problems, and is very drought tolerant. Once established, it rarely needs to be watered. This one is likely healthier than many in well-tended landscapes because it has been allowed to grow normally. It has developed flower buds that will surely provide you with weeks of beauty. Hopefully this plant is in a location that can accommodate its size and may provide shade to one part of your home and garden.
Need more landscape help? Next time you need help to identify a landscape plant, contact the Extension office for assistance.