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What Is an Umbrella Plant?

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  • Written By: Greer Hed
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 06 July 2014
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An umbrella plant is a flowering evergreen shrub often kept as a houseplant, also known as a dwarf umbrella tree or by its scientific name Schefflera arboricola. The plant can grow as high as 30 feet (nine meters), but indoor specimens are usually smaller, reaching heights of 10 to 20 feet (three to six meters). Its leaves are often green, and grow in groups of small leaflets that resemble "fingered umbrellas," hence the plant's common name. Yellow or creamy flowers begin to bloom in the spring and summer months in branched clusters. The umbrella plant is a popular houseplant because it is usually readily available at nurseries and garden centers, and it also tends to be adaptable and easy to grow.

The umbrella plant has its origins on the West Pacific island of Taiwan, which has a tropical climate. For this reason, the plant tends to prefer warm temperatures and low frost when it is grown outdoors. Most umbrella plants that are sold as houseplants start their lives outdoors in full sun conditions, which leads to the growth of dense, lush foliage. The plants may be grown from seed, from a cutting, or by air layering. Air layering is a cultivation process that involves purposefully causing injury to an adult plant, wrapping the wound in moss and plastic film, and then removing the resulting new plant and its root system from the parent plant by cutting.

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Many varieties of umbrella plant are available for sale from nurseries and garden centers. The plant is most often sold as a shrub or bush, but is also available in tree form, frequently as an indoor bonsai tree. It may also be available as a tree with braided roots, not unlike another common houseplant, the ficus tree. There are also different cultivars that have different colored leaves, such as the "Gold Capella" variety which has dappled green and yellow leaves, or the "Trinette" variety, which has leaves of green and creamy white. An umbrella plant with variegated leaves often requires more sunlight, as the leaves contain less chlorophyll than all-green leaves.

As a houseplant, the umbrella plant requires little care, and it will easily live and grow for as long as 20 years. However, it does tend to attract spider mites, small insects that live on the undersides of its leaves and feed on the plant, so the leaves must be checked often for signs of insects. The plant also prefers moist soil, but does not tolerate being wet or sitting in a pool of stagnant water. If the plant is left sitting in water or if the soil is too wet, the leaves may start to turn black or brown and drop off the plant. The health of the plant can be maintained by making sure that it has a sufficient drainage system.

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