UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service
458 Highway 98 North
Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578
August 9, 2007
Feature Article - for release the week of August 12, 2007
Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent, retired
A Houseplant or a Shrub?
Many local motels and commercial properties use Arboricola as an accent plant in their landscapes. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS
“Where can I get some Trinet bushes for my yard?” was the question asked last week in our office. I’ve heard of most local landscape plants, but I had never heard of this plant before. I checked my usual sources, and came up with a big green, blank stare. Our visitor described the plant as shrub-like, with small green and yellowish leaves. He said it is fairly common in local Florida Yards.
After checking some of the spots that he had seen this plant, I knew I was not in the twilight zone of botany: the plant he was seeking is better known as the Arboricola or Dwarf Schefflera. What had me barking up the wrong bush was that name - he was kind-of right. It turns out that one of the most popular varieties of this exotic species is called “Trinette”, a variegated form of the Dwarf Schefflera. And it can bring a splash of low-maintenance color to area landscapes.
Tropical foliage growers in Florida have been producing Schefflera (Brassaia or Schefflera actinophylla) for many years for northern markets. There are several very nice varieties that hold up to the difficult conditions inside a home or office.
Houseplant enthusiasts know the Queensland Umbrella Tree as an easy-to care for tropical plant. This native of Australia has large dark green leaves, and new residents are quick to let it lose in their landscapes.
Botanists look carefully at the foliage and then tell us that those 12 inch leaves are actually leaflets, as one Umbrella-leaf actually has from 7 to 16 leaflets all arranged in a pinwheel on one leaf stalk – the full leaf looks like an umbrella.
The Schefflera is a native of Queensland, Australia - and its leaves also explain its other name - the Queensland Umbrella Tree. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS
These summer flower stalks produce red berries - popular with birds - that help spread this invasive plant to unwanted areas. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS
Landscapers do not like this tall plant: it seems like as soon as all the fallen leaves are raked up, and start to walk away, another bunch of leaves will fall behind your back. This 40-foot tall plant produces a clump of several week-wooded stems. Plumbers may like it: it comes with roots that can invade water pipes and septic tanks.
And then the ecologist chimes in and says, yes this is a houseplant, but when allowed to escape the indoors, its red fruiting sticks produce seed. Birds will spread them and make the Schefflera an occasional invader in natural areas of Florida, Hawaii and other warm-climates.
In fact, UF/IFAS faculty does not recommend the use of this plant in the landscape in central or south Florida. So if this plant gets too big for the house, cut it back or throw it away – don’t let it out in your Florida Yard.
Today’s mystery plant is a smaller version - the Arboricola (Schefflera arboricola), also called the Dwarf Schefflera. It is closely related to the monster above, but does not carry the severe warnings. Commonly used as a houseplant since the 1970s, it has several qualities that have also made it a good choice for our Florida Yards.
Arboricola in the home and may be a better choice that the Schefflera because of their compact full growth. The 7 to 9 leaflets are smaller versions of the Schefflera, and only measure 4 to 6 inches long. They rarely flower as foliage plants, but may produce clusters of round orange-red berries if left unpruned in the landscape.
|Arboricola is a common foundation plant , and is often sheared into hedges. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS||
While the roots of Schefflera are very invasive, those of Arboricola should be watched to insure that they do not invade water pipes. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS
|The orange to red colored fruit are not very common on landscape grown Arboricola as the flowers because periodic pruning keeps them from forming. Photo: Forest & Kim Starr|
They are used in floral arrangements and make attractive bonsai specimens, complete with branch roots that give them a small Banyan tree look. Arboricola can be trained into very attractive topiaries. I have a couple of Arboricola pyramids outside in containers that still look pretty good after several years of minimal care.
They are salt tolerant, and handle almost any kind of soil except poorly drained sites. If the leaves turn black, it’s probably time to reduce the water. Scale and spider mites may be a problem when Dwarf Schefflera is grown indoors, but outdoors pest problems are rare.
Arboricola are dependable evergreen plants. They are drought and heat tolerant, and while the occasional frost of our area may cause leaf drop, but they will spring back quickly in warmer temperatures.
When turned out in the Florida Yard, Dwarf Schefflera may get to 10 feet tall, but at that height will look scraggly and thin. As a result they are often pruned back to lower heights, and may be trimmed into hedges. To keep the shape and size of the plant, both indoors and out, cut long branches just beneath the point of leaf attachment.
Many Yellow Varieties
One of the nice features I have discovered about the Arboricola is the variety of yellow and white leaf colors that are now being selected for among the nursery growers. It is also one of the few plants that can provide some landscape color in partially shady areas.
I am told that around 150 different varieties of this plant can be found in the tropical regions of Taiwan, New Zealand and South-East Asia. Local nursery guides currently list only nine different varieties of Arboricola beyond the common green type. And among these nine, it appears that the most popular variety among the variegated (yellow) forms is the - you guessed it - ‘Trinette’.
The ‘Trinette’ type is described as having variegated cream and green leaves, with a large amount of yellow variegation in the leaf. Based on the number of these plants available in local nurseries, chances are good that most yellow and green Arboricola seen in nurseries for landscapes are of the ‘Trinette’ variety. So now I know what a Trinette looks like.
If you need additional information on these plants, please contact your local Extension office.
Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Nick Place, Dean. Last update: 03/31/2015.
For a list of common Arboricola Varieties and photos, click here.
E. Schefflera arboricola (FPS-541).
Poole, R.T., Chase, A. R. and Osborne, L. S. Schefflera Production Guide [CFREC-A Foliage Plant Research Note RH-91-31]. Apopka: UF/IFAS Mid Florida Research and Education Center, 1991. http://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/scheffle.htm
Schefflera: Plant Care and Information. Apopka: Herman Engleman Greenhouses, 2005. http://www.exoticangel.com/Varieties/ShowCategoryDetails.aspx?categoryid=68