This very attractive plant is native to the southern Japanese islands, Korea, and Taiwan, where it grows in truly subtropical conditions. A hardy, upright plant, Fatsia can grow up to sixteen feet tall outdoors, and about six feet indoors. It's a very popular evergreen that has been grown indoors for many years but is also a staple of tropical gardens and arboretums.
Origins and Characteristics
The Fatsia Japonica, also called the Glossy-Leaf Paper Plant or False Castor Oil, boasts large, deeply lobed, leathery leaves that can measure a full foot across. There are typically eight lobes on each leaf, which explains the origin of its name: the word fatsi sounds similar to the Japanese word for eight. These leaves are held on stiff branches, and the plant grows low to the ground naturally. Under the right circumstances, mature specimens will produce groups of small white flowers, followed by seeds which can be used for propagation.
Overall, these are not particularly difficult plants to grow, and they are popular, in part, for their hardiness. To keep your plant attractive over the long-term, however, make sure to trim it at the beginning of each growing season to encourage bushiness.
Fatsia Japonica does best with warm, humid summers alternating with a relatively cooler, drier period. However, it will die in very cold, drafty, dry conditions. It is relatively easy to grow indoors if you follow these guidelines:
- Light: This is a marginal plant, meaning it grows best in partial shade or even full shade. The plant will bleach out in full sunlight, so a few hours of morning sun in an eastern exposure are best.
- Water: During the growing season, regular moisture is essential. During the winter, cut back water slightly. They are sensitive to sitting in water, so good drainage is important.
- Soil: It's not actually that picky about soil, but will often do best in a slightly acidic soil mix.
- Fertilizer: Feed with a weak liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season. Cut fertilizer back to once a month or so in the winter.
Fatsia can be propagated both by seed and stem-tip cutting. It's unlikely your plant will flower indoors, which is no great loss because the flowers are unremarkable. To propagate from a stem tip cutting, taking the cutting early in the growing season and use a rooting hormone for best success. Keep cuttings in a warm, humid place until new growth emerges.
A full-grown fatsia is a mounding shrub of about 10 feet tall, with large leaves. Your young plants can be repotted annually, moving up one pot size each year. Take cuttings to propagate when you repot and cut the plant back carefully to encourage low bushy growth. Once the plant reaches the maximum height, repot every other year and prune more aggressively. Older plants might need to be root pruned to keep them vigorous and healthy. Although it is best to repot regularly, these plants can actually manage well in the same pot over the course of years.
There are three species of fatsia in the wild, but only the Fatsia japonica is grown in cultivation. There is, however, a variegated form called F. japonica 'Variegata' which also grows indoors and has cream-colored tips on its leaves. The variegated form is somewhat more fragile and is harder to find in nurseries.
Fatsia japonica has established itself as an invasive species in some subtropical areas so may be restricted, depending on where you live.
Fatsia is not actually a difficult plant to grow, providing you give it plenty of light and moisture during the growing season, then a period of relative cold. In this case, relative cold means temperatures down to about 50 F at night, or even slightly lower. Plants that are exposed to brief freezing temperatures will often resprout from the ground when the weather warms back up, but a hard freeze will certainly kill it.
Their large and deeply lobed leaves form a beautiful backdrop to other shade-loving, subtropical plants, including and especially ferns, grasses, and bamboo. Because of their fleshy leaves, the plants are vulnerable to pests including aphids, mealy bugs, scale, and whitefly. If possible, identify the infestation as early as possible and treat with the least toxic option.