The Queensland Umbrella tree, Schefflera is an evergreen greenhouse or conservatory shrub come small tree distantly related to ivy. Given good conditions a plant under cover may flower and berry though it’s for the somewhat hand shaped and handsome foliage this is cultivated. Originally from Australasia these distinctive ornamental shrubs have proved popular in subtropical and tropical gardens worldwide.
The common species, Brassaia actinophylla now Schefflera actinophylla a.k.a. macrostachya comes from Queensland Australia, Java and New Guinea. The original form can make a tree but fortunately the variety in cultivation S. a. compacta stays more reasonably sized and especially when grown in a container. Likewise compact is its more decorative form Variegata which is the most well known of all this genus with its distinctive creamy white or more often yellow markings. After some years Schefflera may flower with large displays of small round reddish purple flowers all along what look just like the wire frames for umbrellas. These flowers become purple fruits which are sadly not edible but very decorative.
Oddly for such an evergreen shrubby plant it’s often found naturally growing as an epiphyte in some nook in another tree or even in fissures in bare rock. This makes it a tough reliable subject for us to cultivate under cover especially as it can also endure temperatures down to near freezing point (though preferring it a lot warmer!).
This epiphyte ancestry makes Schefflera really suited to container culture and easy going as to compost preferring a leaf mould rich mix. The plants stand erratic watering well and they are not very needy for fertiliser either though benefitting from a little liquid feed occasionally. They’re seldom bothered by pests or diseases though the usual greenhouse suspects, scale and red spider mite, should be watched out for though are seldom seriously troublesome.
You can grow Schefflera from seed but as with so many plants the best forms are propagated vegetatively from cuttings or layering. And one cunning way is buy a multi-stemmed specimen and divide this into several.
The connoisseur may wish to collect several other species, about a dozen are widely available including the bristly/ hairy S. tomentosa and the glossy leaved S. venulosa. S. arboricola from Taiwan is less shrub like and more scandent as it often climbs amongst other shrubs, it can develop huge bunches of orange berries turning black eventually. You will also come across S. elegantissima from New Caledonia, this makes a most superb specimen house plant with finely divided, indeed elegant, dark green foliage.