A Short and Simple Guide to Schefflera (Arboricola)


The schefflera, or umbrella plant, is just one of those plants that looks both whimsical and elegant. As the colloquial name suggests, the leaves resemble little umbrellas, clustering in pinwheels from thin stems. The foliage is a striking green color, glossy when unfurling. The variegated kinds flaunt splashes of bright colors for an added je ne sais quoi!

While I adore umbrella plants, I’ve definitely climbed a learning curve caring for mine. Still, my first umbrella plant has been hardy despite long stretches of neglect, leaf loss, and, yes, even root rot. With the minimum amount of care, the umbrella plant has proven to be a steadfast presence in my home.

What Are the Characteristics of Scheffleras?

Here, I’ll mainly talk about schefflera arboricola, a smaller relative of the schefflera actinophylla, the umbrella plant. Arboricolas, typically called dwarf umbrella plants, have small, radiating oval leaflets that grow in clusters of 7 or more from spokes attached to the main stem. Dwarf umbrella plants grow up to 26 to 30 feet tall outdoors and up to 8 to 10 feet indoors. Their leaves are typically dark green, but the variegated kinds may have splashes of yellows and creams. While they’re technically flowering evergreen shrubs, the indoor varieties rarely flower. 

How do you know if you have the actinophylla? These have a radiating foliage pattern, but their leaves tend to be larger, thinner, and more oak-like. While arboricola leaves grow up to around 4 inches in length, actinophylla’s can go up to 12 inches.

What Is the History / Etymology of Schefflera?

The schefflera arboricola is native to Taiwan, the actinophylla to northern Australia. The schefflera also goes by the umbrella plant, parasol plant, Australian ivy palm, octopus tree, and starleaf. The genus name comes from Johann Peter Ernst von Scheffler, an 18th-century physician and botanist.

How Do You Care for Scheffleras?

Scheffleras are relatively easy to care for. But like any plant, they appreciate warmth, light, and water — in moderation. For the soil, you can use a loamy and well-draining potting mix. Scheffleras love bright indirect sunlight, but they can also be left outside with shade. Allow these guys to dry out completely in between waterings. They thrive in warm temperatures between 65 and 90°F. You won’t need to fertilize your scheffleras too often, though feeding them liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season can encourage new leaves. Prune to control the plant size or pinch back the leaf ends for a fuller-looking plant. Wipe dust from the leaves every now and then so that they can absorb the maximum amount of sunlight. 

My gigantic variegated schefflera arboricola, a relatively new buy from Save Mart!
A somewhat spindly and leggy dwarf umbrella plant. It’s still hanging on and is really enjoying liquid fertilizer!

How Do You Troubleshoot Schefflera Problems?

Scheffleras don’t encounter many problems, but your plant may take time to adjust to its new home. One common issue is root rot, as scheffleras loathe wet feet. If this is the case, you’ll see yellow leaves and may notice a rotten smell. Change the soil and step away from the watering can! Overwatering can also cause leaf fallout, though this may be a symptom of a cold plant. During the winter, steer clear from drafty windows to keep leaves intact. You may also see dark spots, which could indicate a bacterial or fungal problem. Reduce watering and misting. 

Other problems include legginess and pests. Umbrella plants may become leggy without sufficient sunlight, so gives them enough light and pinch back for a fuller look. While dwarf umbrella plants are not susceptible to pests, you can hose them down and treat them with neem oil if you encounter bugs such as spider mites.



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