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What is Polyscias?

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  • Written By: S. Williams
  • Edited By: Kathryn Hulick
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2016
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Part of the Araliaceae family, Polyscias is a plant genus that is native to New Zealand, tropical Asia, and the Pacific Islands that includes approximately 80 species of shrubs and trees. Polyscias means "many shaded" in reference to the highly variable color combinations that appear on the finely-divided leaves. In addition to color differences, single Polyscias plants often display leaves that vary from very broad to needle-thin. The overall appearance of this plant features many upright stems with multiple small leaves growing in a fern-like pattern. Common names for different species of this plant include Ming aralia, coffee tree, Balfour aralia, and geranium leaf aralia.

The attractive foliage and decorative trunk make the Polyscias a sought after houseplant in colder climates. As a potted plant, it is an excellent candidate for Bonsai plantings due to its slow growth rate. This also means that plant nurseries must invest a lot of time in this plant before it is ready to be sold, so high-quality plants often demand a premium price. In warmer climates, the Polyscias is grown outdoors and is often used to create hedges.

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The Polyscias requires temperatures above 55° Fahrenheit (12.7° Celsius) to thrive and prefers full sun. Although this decorative plant can be grown in any medium, the best soil combination is loamy with peat moss, sand, and charcoal added. The soil should be kept moist but not wet and water use should be reduced in the winter months. Trimming the plant helps to control growth while promoting bushier branches and a thicker trunk. Propagation methods include stem cuttings, root cuttings, suckers, and air layering.

The most well-known species in this genus is the Polyscias fruticosa, or Ming aralia. This plant has many thin, vertical branches with multiple rows of thin leaves. The joints of the branches are positioned closely together on the main trunk and form an elaborately intertwined pattern. As the plant grows older, the lower branches shed and leave behind a corky surface. The Ming aralia can grow up to 8 feet (2.5 meters) tall, but most owners trim the branches to control its growth.

Polyscias balfouriana, also known as the Balfour aralia or dinner plate aralia, is one of the larger shrubs in this genus. It can grow up to 25 feet (about 7.5 meters) tall, but is usually shorter. The stems are a greenish-gray mottled color with leaves composed of three leaflets edged in white. It grows in an upright direction and is usually no wider than its container.

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