great shrub: aralia elata ‘silver umbrella’

aralia elata silver umbrella
IHAVE ALREADY CONFESSED MANY TIMES OVER to a love of the genus Aralia. One fairly recent acquisition, bought as a young grafted shrub maybe five years ago, is finally shaping up enough to cause people—and a happy frenzy of bees and wasps—to really take notice this time of year. Aralia elata ‘Silver Umbrella,’ a variegated form of the Japanese angelica tree, is in fine form.

Aralia elata, which in time may grow into a 10- or 12-foot large shrub or small tree, suckers like its close American cousin Aralia spinosa, or devil’s walking stick—and both have spiny trunks. A. elata has a tropical look, between the giant frond-like leaves and the oversized billows of creamy flowers from midsummer into fall, when purplish fruit forms that the birds enjoy.

aralia elata silver umbrella foliage
The straight green species (too rambunctious for the garden, but used as the rootstock for the fancier variegated cultivars) is hardy to Zone 4, and ‘Silver Umbrella’ may be, too—but it certainly is here in Zone 5B. Mine is growing on the north side of the house, getting maybe half-day indirect afternoon sun from the west, so part shade is fine.

The downside: The handsome variegated cultivars must be grafted, so they’re expensive and uncommonly grown, and the grafting also means that they revert. Be tough on any all-green shoots, and remove them at once.  I read that in Japan and Korea, the tender new shoots from the ends of the branches are eaten in tempura and other dishes, but for now, I’m just discarding the unwanted bits.

Because of sticker shock, I started with a small plant, and grew it in a large weatherproof pot for a couple of years, plunging it, pot and all, into the vegetable garden each winter. Finally, I set it free for good, and it has settled in pretty quickly.

Prefer to add gold-variegated accents to the landscape rather than white? There’s a ‘Gold Umbrella’ now, too, which opens all green but develops thick gold leaf edges. ‘Aureovariegata’ has irregular gold margins on its foliage throughout the growing season.


  • Aralia elata cultivar sources by mail include Broken Arrow Nursery
  • My other aralias are profiled here and here (the latter the devil’s walking stick, the former a roundup)
  1. Jayme says:

    Beautiful shrub. I live in a world where people seem to think there are only 7 types of shrubs and that it is a requirement to have 2 of each in your yard. I am always looking for something unique!

  2. Tracy says:

    Hi, Margaret
    I’m inquiring on something off-topic: what Nicotiana is planted in your garden? It’s tall and beautiful.

  3. Hi Margaret, its been a while…

    My friends Kathy and Glenn, from Glen Falls, NY were at your lecture and toured your garden Saturday. Glenn said your talk was quite inspiring, and he thinks Kathy walked away from it, with a lot of ideas, that she will implement on their land.

    Saturday was a perfect day for the Copake Falls Day, and for me, painting the windows and trim on my house. Enjoy the rest of Summer, soon it will be time for Fall cleanup.


    1. Margaret says:

      @Fred: Yes, we talked about you behind your back, Fred. :) Speaking of windows, I have to wash mine — this week or else! Your friends were so nice, and of course spoke of you with great fondness. Nice to hear from you.

      @Tracy: Most of mine are self-sowns from crosses of Nicotianas of years past, but the tall, large-flowered white ones are probably N. sylvestris or its cultivar ‘Only the Lonely.’ I also used to have a brownish-mauve one called N. sylvestris ‘Stonecrop Selection’ or ‘Stonecrop Mauve’ and I think they all mated. :) I also like the tiny green flowers of N. langsdorffii. I think that was my original gene pool!

  4. Margaret,

    Glenn did mention, Kathy bringing up my name. I must have been an icebreaker. I have no problem when people mention me in friendly conversation. It is almost like being there ;-}

  5. Cynthia says:

    For those in the northeast, the Aralia elata is considered to be highly invasive. See attached for more info.


    The variegated kind may be less invasive. However they can cross with some of the species and turn turn what was thought to be an attractive landscape plant into a habitat destroying thug.

    I agree we need to get more variety into our shrub plantings, but I hope your readers will consider adding variety with some of beautiful native plants out there. The birds, bees and butterflies will love you for it. AND natives are more likely to survive our crazy weather.

  6. Robert says:

    I disagree with the comment that “the grafting also means that they revert”. Grafting may result in suckers starting from below the graft and they will be green, but grafting does not cause reversion of variegation. Variegated plants are naturally unstable and tend to go back to green. Some variegation is quite stable and rarely reverts – eg many hostas, and other variegation reverts easily.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Robert. I think a lot of grafted things get overtaken by their rootstock if you’re not careful (like your example of the Aralia). Different from reversion, yes.

  7. Alistair Young says:

    Hi I’m in u.k. are suckers a real problem? And what’s the difference between umbrellas and previous varigata and aurovarigata ?

    1. margaret says:

      The grafted ones do indeed sucker to straight elata, and they can emerge at a bit of a distance. I don’t know the cultivar history and whether some are updated names for the same older varieties or new distinct ones. Broken Arrow Nursery here describes several.

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