Dwarf Hawaiian Schefflera (Schefflera arboricola)

Australian Ivy Palm, Dwarf Hawaiian Schefflera, Dwarf Schefflera, Hawaiian Umbrella Tree, Parasol plant, Umbrella Plant

The schefflera houseplant is a popular plant and comes in many varieties. The most well known are the umbrella tree and the dwarf umbrella tree. One of the reasons the plant is popular is because schefflera plant care is so easy, but, while schefflera care is easy, the plant does need to be cared for. 

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Heptapleurum arboricola (syn. Schefflera arboricola, Chinese: 鹅掌藤; pinyin: ézhǎng téng; lit. ‘goose-sole vine’) is a flowering plant in the family Araliaceae. Its common name is dwarf umbrella tree, as it resembles a smaller version of the umbrella tree, Heptapleurum actinophyllum.

This species is indigenous to China, but has widely naturalized elsewhere. It is now found in the northern, tropical regions of Australia; in areas of Queensland, it has been noted to significantly compete with native species. It has also been introduced to the Ryukyu Islands, Hawaii, Florida, Bermuda, and Jamaica.

It is an evergreen shrub growing to 8–9 m tall, free-standing, or clinging to the trunks of other trees as an epiphyte. The leaves are palmately compound, with 7–9 leaflets, the leaflets 9–20 cm long and 4–10 cm broad (though often smaller in cultivation) with a wedge-shaped base, entire margin, and an obtuse or acute apex, sometimes emarginate. 

The leaves are leathery in texture, shiny green, glabrous on the upper surface and somewhat lighter and matte on the underside. Young plants have smaller leaves and fewer leaflets. Each leaflet has a central rib that divides it into two halves, with between four and six ribs clearly visible up to the third order. The stipules merge with the petiole, the length of which is 12-15 cm.

Flowers

Appearing from midsummer to early autumn, the flowers are produced in a 20 cm panicle of small umbels, each umbel 7–10 mm in diameter with 5–10 flowers. The flowers are hermaphroditic, having a color ranging from yellow to green and a double perianth radial symmetry. They are composed of an entire annular calyx, five almost fully developed sepals, a corolla with five petals 2.5 mm long, with five stamens and five or six carpels that enclose the ovary. The style is not recognizable and the stigma is established.

Fruits

The fruits have an almost spherical oval drupe, with a diameter of about 5 mm. The endocarp contains five seeds. The fruits ripen from late summer to early winter. They begin as orange glandular points. At maturity, they become red-violet. The fruits are inedible to humans, but may be consumed (and spread elsewhere) by various birds, parrots or other animals.

Toxicity

All parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate crystals, saponins and terpenoids, toxic compounds which are irritants for cats and dogs. They can cause swelling (in some cases leading to breathing difficulties), burning of the mouth, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, diarrhoea, and itching. For humans, the plant is low-severity poison and a skin irritant which can cause contact dermatitits.

Aerial roots

Under the right conditions, this plant will produce aerial roots that, when they reach the ground, will convert to fully functional roots. They give the plant an unusual and interesting appearance. Three conditions must be maintained for the plant to produce them: a high growth rate, insufficient trunk roots (the plant is root bound or these roots are pruned) and constant, very high humidity.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

Schefflera prefers bright, indirect light. In the summer, move potted plants outside where they will receive bright light but not direct sun, such as under a patio cover. A schefflera plant that gets leggy or floppy might not receive enough light. Never place a schefflera in direct, full sunlight because the intense sun can burn the leaves.

Temperature and Humidity

Because it is a tropical plant, schefflera requires relatively high humidity and tropical temperatures; it will suffer in temperatures lower than 60°F. Do not expose these plants to drafts or dry heating vents. In cold climates, bottom heat might be necessary.

An underwatered or cold schefflera will begin to drop leaves quickly. If the plant loses all its leaves, you can attempt to save it by moving it outdoors in the spring and watering generously.

Watering

Water regularly during the growing season and spray the leaves with water frequently. Wait until the pot’s soil dries out, then give it a deep and thorough soaking. Cut back on water during the winter months. Yellow and dropped leaves indicate that you might be watering too much.

Soil

If growing indoors, plant schefflera in a rich, loose, well-drained potting soil. A well-draining, sandy loam soil with a slightly acidic pH is ideal when grown outdoors. Avoid planting outdoors where the soil becomes too wet or soggy.

Fertilizing

Feed schefflera plants twice a week during the growing season with liquid fertilizer for houseplants, or use two applications of slow-release pellets. They are heavy feeders and will benefit from the extra nutrients.

Pruning

Your schefflera might need to be pruned occasionally, especially if it is not getting enough light. Leggy schefflera can be pruned to encourage a fuller plant. Cut off what you feel is overgrown or appearing leggy (you can propagate the cuttings).

Schefflera houseplants rebound quickly from pruning and will reward your efforts. The result will be a fuller and bushier plant.

Propagation

It’s best to propagate schefflera in the spring: Doing so keeps your current plant from being too bushy and provides new plants. Schefflera can be propagated by cuttings.

  • Using sharp pruners, cut off a 6-inch stem section at a 45-degree angle and remove all but four or five leaves at the top of the stem.
  • Dip the cut end in rooting hormone, then place the cut end into a container filled with potting soil.
  • Cover the pot with a loosely secured plastic bag to hold in humidity, then place the pot in bright, indirect light.
  • Check the container daily to ensure the soil remains moist, watering when necessary. Check for root development by lightly tugging on the stem.
  • After about a month, if roots have formed, you can remove the plastic bag and continue growing the new plant. If roots don’t form (success can be sporadic), discard the cutting and try again with a new cutting.
  • If a young new plant is planted outdoors in a warm climate garden, it is best done in spring or fall when the sun and temperatures are not blazing hot. 

Potting and Repotting 

Schefflera plants are fast-growing, mainly when grown outdoors, where they can add three feet per year. Indoor plants grow slower, especially if confined in a tight-fitting container.

Repot the plants annually or as needed with fresh soil and in a bigger pot if they’ve outgrown the previous one. You can slow the growth rate and prevent plants from getting too large by prolonging the period between repotting and allowing them to get somewhat rootbound.

If you repot schefflera, remove it from its container and gently loosen up the roots; it might help soak them in water. To repot, select a larger container (clay or plastic) with ample drainage holes and fill it with a peaty, well-drained soil mix.

Overwintering

Hardy in USDA hardiness zone 10 to 12, schefflera pants are commonly overwintered indoors for most of the year in cooler climates. They can be taken outdoors for the warmer months in climates appropriate for tropical plants.

Pests and Diseases

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Both bacterial leaf spots and Alternaria leaf spots affect schefflera. These diseases can easily be remedied by avoiding overhead watering, not watering in the evening, and applying a copper fungicide if these watering practices don’t work.

Indoors, schefflera are prone to problems with aphids, which leave a honeydew excretion that leads to sooty mold; treat for aphids with insecticidal soap spray. Outdoors, the plant is susceptible to several pests, including mealybugs, spider mites, and scale insects.

Common Problems 

Schefflera is a low-maintenance plant that is not difficult to grow, but sometimes your plant can exhibit some problems. Here are some potential issues:

Dropping Leaves

A schefflera losing its leaves is a stress sign. When a sudden shift to its environment occurs, whether sun exposure, temperature, drafts, or watering changes, the plant will show its distress by dropping leaves.

Check that the soil is sufficiently moist but not soggy. Ensure the plant has indirect light and temperatures remain consistently above 60°F. (Its preferred temperature range is between 65°F and 90°F.)

Yellowing Leaves

Overwatering is often the cause of your schefflera’s leaves turning yellow. Try watering less to see if this helps. If not, your plant might not receive enough light, so move it to a brighter location.

Brown Spots on Leaves

Underwatering is likely the cause for spots on your schefflera. In that situation, water your plant more regularly during the growing season. Rot rot, often caused by overwatering, can also cause brown, mushy spots on leaves. A best practice is to water the plant deeply and allow the soil to dry out before giving it another deep watering.

III. Uses and Benefits 

Heptapleurum arboricola is commonly grown as a houseplant, popular for its tolerance of neglect and poor growing conditions. It is also grown as a landscape (garden) plant in milder climates where frosts are not severe. Numerous cultivars have been selected for variations in leaf color and pattern, often variegated with creamy-white to yellow edges or centers, and dwarf forms. The cultivar ‘Gold Capella’ has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

Dwarf Hawaiian Schefflera (Schefflera arboricola) Details

Common name Australian Ivy Palm, Dwarf Hawaiian Schefflera, Dwarf Schefflera, Hawaiian Umbrella Tree, Parasol plant, Umbrella Plant
Botanical name Schefflera arboricola
Plant type Shrub
Hardiness zone 10a, 10b, 11a, 11b, 12a, 12b
Growth rate Medium
Height 5 ft. 0 in. - 6 ft. 0 in.
Width 5 ft. 0 in. - 6 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Soil condition Loam (Silt)
Flower color Red/Burgundy
Leaf color Green