False aralia is a striking indoor houseplant that has serrated, thin leaves.
While it can be needy with its watering and sunlight requirements, it’s worth it to be able to take in that jungle-like appearance every time you walk by.
It’s green. It’s variegated. It loves medium-light with room temperate conditions.
It’s been used in gardens, households, and even terrariums as a decorative plant.
Let’s dive in and learn how to grow and care for false aralia.
Did you know they can be called Schefflera elegantissima, Plerandra elgeantissima, or Dizygotheca elegantissima? They all refer to the same species because the name has been changed multiple times.
(Featured image by Forest and Kim Starr, CC BY 2.0.)
Last updated: 6/23/22.
Quick care guide: False aralia (Plerandra elegantissima)
|Plant type||Evergreen shrub|
|Origin||Southern Europe, Northern Africa, Western Asia.|
|Scientific name||P. elegantissima
|Other names||Threadleaf, Dizygotheca elegantissima Schefflera elegantissima, spider aralia|
|Soil type||Fertile, loamy, well-draining, peaty, mossy|
|Soil pH||5.5-6.5 (acidic to neutral)|
|Sunlight requirement||Filtered sunlight, partial sunlight|
|Bloom season||Summer, fall|
|Colors||Green, silver, white, yellow, red, brown, copper.|
|Max height||10 feet|
|Max width||3 feet|
|Low temperature tolerance||65F|
|High temperature tolerance||85F|
|Ideal temperature range||70-75F|
|Humidity||Moderate to high (60% or higher)|
|Watering requirements||1" per week|
|Fertilizer requirements||Light feeding during spring, summer|
|Plant food NPK||10-10-10|
|Days until germination||2-3 weeks from seed|
|Days until bloom||Rarely blooms in captivity|
|Speed of growth||Slow|
|Hardiness zones||10, 11, 12|
|Plant depth||0.25" from seed, same depth as original container from transplant|
|Plant spacing||3 feet|
|Plant with||Butterfly ginger, cordyline, elephant ears, tibouchina, caladium, variegated peperomia, amaryllis, fishtail fern.|
|Don't plant with||Don't overcrowd containers or plant too closely|
|Propagation method||Seeds, transplants, cuttings|
|Common pests||Aphids, spider mites, mealybugs, scale, thrips, whiteflies.|
|Common diseases||Pseudomonas leaf blight, root rot|
|Grown in container||Yes|
|Flowering plant||Yes, but not in captivity|
|Care level||Moderate (requires specific watering, fertilizer, and temperature requirements)|
|Best uses||Decoration, indoor plant, houseplant|
What’s false aralia?
Also known as threadleaf, finger aralia, or “spider,” false aralia is the “fake” version of aralia. If you don’t really know what to look for, you’ll mistake it for the real aralia.
This is just a decoy. The “real thing” is 50 feet tall.
It’s a slow-growing houseplant that does well in moderate light environments. While not too beginner-friendly, it’s not too difficult to take care of.
The finely divided leaves give it a feather-like appearance. Younger plants can be used on the tabletop or desk and they pair well with other indoor plants.
Their woody trunks are perfect for decorating empty spaces or complimenting furniture. Bigger plants can be used as spacers or dividers. The leaves contain 7-10 leaflets with small teeth. It has little branching and is vulnerable to mealybugs.
In the fall, it grows pale green leaves with black fruit. It is considered a flowering plant, but rarely does in cultivation.
They’re gorgeous to look at and will grow fuller in brighter spots. Repotting every few years helps benefit the growth.
False aralia is commonly confused with Japanese maple. It has a distinctive look- the leaves are serrated with toothed edges. The leaves can be green, copper, burgundy, or even a mix of all three.
This is one of those plants that’ll react directly to how much light you give it.
False aralia is native to New Caledonia.
Is false aralia easy to grow?
It does have specific temperature, humidity, and watering requirements.
But other than that, it’s not bad. You just need to have patience and the will to do the work. With those gorgeous serrated leaves and their dark green color, it’s all the motivation you need.
Types of false aralia
Thankfully, false aralia doesn’t have thousands of cultivars to choose from.
Call me boring, but I like limited choices because it makes deciding which plant to grow easier. Here are some of the most popular false aralia types on the market:
- S. elegantissima Galaxy (divided leaves with dark green color and shiny foliage)
- S. elegantissima Gold Crest (golden leaves with feathery texture)
- S. elegantissima Bianca (yellow leaves with less sharpness, wider foliage)
- S. elegantissima Olympia (dark red leaves)
You may be able to find more choices online or in your local specialized nursery.
Please note that false aralia isn’t meant for consumption and has some degree of toxins.
How to propagate false aralia
Propagating false aralia is straightforward- you can grow from seed or cuttings.
As mentioned prior, false aralia does require some specialized knowledge to grow.
But it’s not too difficult. Here’s what you’ll need to know.
If you’re completely new to this species, perhaps just buying a plant from the nursery is the easiest option. It’ll cost you a premium, but it saves you time and energy.
Plus, you can start enjoying it earlier. Don’t forget that.
Starting from seed
Seeds can be purchased or harvested from existing plants.
If you have a friend or neighbor who has false aralia already, you can extract the seeds from the center of the plum-colored fruits.
Upon collecting the seeds, soak them in a lukewarm bath.
Then, place them into a mixture of sphagnum moss with fine potting sand. They should be soaked for at least 2 days. The substrate mixture should be sealed inside something airtight to prevent molding. Think of a plastic zipper bag or canning jar.
The seeds should be kept moist until germination, which can take 4-5 weeks. Lightly mist the substrate to keep the incubator humid. Maintain temperatures between 70-75F. Place the container in bright, filtered sunlight. It loves sun and humidity.
Or use a grow light if none is available in your household.
Expect germination to be poor. False aralia doesn’t germinate easily in the household. For the few seedlings that sprout, place each one in a small pot with a diameter of at least 4”. Sow each plant 0.25” deep.
Continue to spritz it often to keep it moist while keeping other growing conditions constant. Avoid sudden changes in the temperature or humidity.
The first few pairs of true leaves will grow after a few weeks. When this happens, you’re ready to move it to the great outdoors.
Starting from seedlings skips the headache for germination, but still offers some exposure to growing it from a near-seed state.
While it doesn’t give you as much of a head start as starting from cuttings, it’s a good compromise in between. You can buy seedlings/transplants from local garden centers.
Choose a healthy virulent false aralia. Look for signs of pests or drooping leaves. These are signs of a damaged plant.
Quarantine for 2 weeks upon bringing it home so you don’t infest your garden. After it’s cleared, move it to your planter of choice. Choose one that’s the same size as the pot it came in or larger.
Generally, commercial nurseries will fill it with the smallest pot possible to save on costs. Sizing up is a good idea.
Layer it with a potting mix that’s high quality and well-draining.
Some people like to put a layer of perlite or sand at the bottom to help drain. You can mix in some sphagnum moss or vermiculite to help create the right type of soil that false aralia loves.
Remove the plant from its original container by watering it to loosen the dirt. Put the pot sideways and then gently dig it out with a spade. Dig from the outside in towards the center root.
Be careful you don’t cut the roots by mistake. Water it well. Then resoil if needed.
Starting from cuttings
Using cuttings is preferable over starting from seed because of a higher rate of success.
- With seeds, you need your seeds to germinate and root.
- With cuttings, you just have to deal with roots. Plus, you also know what the plant will look like when it’s fully grown.
False aralia cuttings can be taken from plants that are at least 2 years old. Younger plants will produce poor-quality cuttings for use as growing mediums.
Get a pair of pruners. Sterilize them with rubbing alcohol. Make a cut around the end of a healthy-looking stem. It should be fully grown. Take the cutting about 8 inches from the end so you have plenty of “stem” to work with. Look for a stem that’s soft, pliable, and flexible. It shouldn’t be thick or rigid. Cut at 45 degrees.
Remove the foliage from the bottom 5 inches or so, but leave the top layer of leaves. This will aid in photosynthesis for rooting.
Grab the flesh end and dip it in rooting powder. There are many different types of hormone gels or fine powders you can use. Some popular choices are TakeRoot or Garden Safe. You can find these powders online or in your local home improvement store.
Use the rooting hormone as directed. If you’re using a dip, make sure that the entire cut end has a good thick covering of it because when you plant it, a lot will rub off from the stem you cut into the substrate.
Get a four-inch container and then fill it with a quality seed starter. There’s no need to use organic if you don’t want to since you’re not eating it.
Just choose something that’s well-draining, chock full of nutrients, and has a decent reputation. Moisture retaining properties are a plus.
It should also have multiple outlets to drain out water just in case one gets clogged. You can improve the drainage by adding a 1” layer of perlite, sand, or coconut coir. This will prevent clogging.
Plant the stem with the cut side in. Be gentle when planting. Make sure that the rooting powder doesn’t come off because you need all the help you can get to help it successfully root. You know that false aralia is stubborn by this point, right?
Water it well the first time around to moisten the soil and build water runoff pathways. The water should drain quickly. Mist it several times daily.
Cover with a plastic bag or plant cover to help increase the moisture. Monitor for mold or root rot. After a few weeks, give it a tug to see if it stays in place.
If so, congrats, you’ve rooted it! If not, give it some more time. You can also note the new buds forming on the stem as a sign of successful rooting.
How to care for false aralia
Here are some general guidelines that teach you how to care for your false aralia.
While care needs vary depending on the cultivar, caring for aralia is generally the same.
You can use these as a rule of thumb so you know what’s involved in P. elegantissima care. This plant has been successfully grown in gardens, households, and even patios or decks.
False aralia grows in USDA hardiness zones 10-12.
If you’re not in these ideal zones, it can be grown indoors or in protected regions. But if you want to increase your chances of success, planting indoors is ideal.
When grown outside, it’ll grow larger than its indoor size as with most plants. Natively, they can grow upwards of 50 feet tall.
But inside the house? They’re limited to just about 6-7 feet. You can see the huge difference in size when false aralia is left by itself in its native environment.
When you grow it indoors, you’re basically growing a mini aralia. But the features it has to give you a taste of the real thing.
Use well-draining soil that retains moisture well. It’s imperative you use soil that drains efficiently since this plant gets root rot easily.
False aralia prefers slightly acidic to neutral soils. Aim for a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. If your soil is too alkaline, you can add limestone or soil pH down to bring down the pH.
When starting from seed, plant each seed 1″ deep. When transplanting, plant each one as deep as the original container it came in.
Space each plant at least 3 feet apart from each other when planting multiple aralias. Fully grown ones will need space to grow outwards. Compacting them will make them compete for resources which may result in smaller plants.
So, how much sun does a false aralia need?
False aralia requires bright, filtered sunlight. It should never be grown directly in sunlight.
Excess sunlight will burn or scorch the foliage, but lack of light will make it grow smaller with dull green leaves. Like any other plant, it requires a balance between lighting conditions.
Bright light gives you that dark green color for select cultivars.
If you’re growing indoors as a houseplant, you’ll need to find somewhere that provides that nice dappled sunlight from the windows or use a grow light. If outdoors, the area should be sheltered from direct sunlight.
False aralia will benefit from houseplant fertilizer with an NPK of 10-10-10. Balanced plant food works.
Use as directed, preferably at least twice per month. Slow-release will sustain your plant much more efficiently.
Opt for fertilizers made for houseplants. They don’t need regular fertilization to grow. But it does help them grow faster and fuller.
The ideal temperature range is between 70-75F, which is just around room temperature.
False aralia doesn’t like the cold. If temperatures drop below 60F, then it can damage your plant.
There are many things you can do to keep temperatures stable- don’t place it near drafty windows, doors, HVAC units, etc. Keep it in a sheltered place.
Humidity will generally be lower when the ambient air is cold. This plant prefers higher humidity, so growing it near sinks or showers will keep the air wet.
You can spritz it a few times per day to keep the leaves moist. Consider using DIY humidity trays to raise the humidity as well. This plant loves moisture nearby.
Here’s a good video to building your own humidity tray:
Just like providing sunlight for it, the right amount of water is also important.
Overwatering will lead to plant rot while underwatering will lead to slow growth or drooping leaves. A lot of it comes down to the pot you’re using. If it drains efficiently, watering problems should be kept to a minimum.
When you notice slow draining, it may be clogged with roots or soil buildup. Or it may be time to upgrade to a new planter.
Use your finger and stick it into the soil. The top 1” should be completely dry before you water again.
You can also use a moisture meter to get the exact water saturation in the soil if you’re unsure or just don’t wanna get your finger dirty. A surefire sign that it’s time to water your false aralia is leaf dropping.
The older leaves drop off when there’s too little water. Drooping is also another symptom of underwatering.
How often do you water Aralia?
Water when the top inch of soil is dry. Depending on your indoor conditions, this can be every other day to twice a week. Aim for 1 inch of water weekly, but adjust as necessary.
The most precise way to know when to water your false aralia is to use a soil meter.
Water at the base deeply, not the leaves. Empty the saucer regularly. Pooling will lead to root rot.
Misting with distilled water can be a good way to keep the humidity up. Mist several times a day with a few spritzes of water. Use a hygrometer to measure ambient humidity. Keep it at least 60% or higher.
False aralia doesn’t grow that quickly, so pruning isn’t something you need to worry about. Every now and then when the leaves look dry, brown, or wilted, get a sterilized pair of pruners to gently prune them off.
Other than that, there’s no need to cut it back unless you’re trying to keep it compact or tidy.
No need to make it a chore. If you don’t want your false aralia to grow too tall or wide, prune off the stem tip to keep it small. Yellow leaves should also be pruned.
False aralia will need to be repotted when it outgrows its container.
If you choose your container size wisely, you don’t have to do this often. Every 2-3 years, upgrade the pot by one size. Assess the roots. If they’re touching the edges of the planter, then yeah, it’s time to upgrade.
To save yourself time, you can just buy a few sizes up so you don’t have to repot as often. Repotting also replenishes the nutrients in the potting mix, which is necessary for plant growth.
When uprooting the plant, try to remove as much soil stuck on it as you can. Repot in fresh soil.
False aralia is an evergreen, so it naturally will tolerate the wintertime on its own.
There’s nothing you need to do unless you have fierce winters. Outdoors, false aralia will tolerate the winter on its own if you’re in zones 10-12. Colder conditions may require plant overs, layers of mulch, or they need to be moved indoors.
Winterizing isn’t usually necessary for evergreen plants.
Repot in the spring or summer for best results.
This is why growing it indoors is beneficial- you can monitor for bug activity since you’re always walking by it in your house. Aphids will feast on the young, tender leaves since they’re so easily digestible.
They suck the sap out of the eaves and will deposit a sticky honey-like residue. This later brings some dark fuzzy mold if you let it sit. If you see aphids, take action now.
Use a natural insecticide made for aphids to eradicate them. Remove them manually. Spray down your plant with a high-powered hose. Aphids are destructive and will suck up all that precious place juice from your false aralia like crazy.
Spider mites are another common pest that’ll feed on your false aralia by piercing the leaves with their microscopic mouthparts. They pierce the foliage then suck out the nutrients.
If you have a lot of these mites, you may notice that no matter how much you’re watering your plant, it continues to drop leaves, yellow, or wilt. Spider mites can be ridden by using neem oil, horticultural oil, or pressurized spraying.
False aralia is susceptible to root rot, which is a common disease with plants grown in high humidity conditions. It looks like soft brown spots that develop on the leaves. The leaves may also drop off.
Pathogens infect the roots and then cause them to rot. They may be introduced from contaminated soil or fertilizer. Watering too much will also create problems.
It introduces a suitable environment for pathogens to infest. Poor draining soil, clogged outlets, or just stagnant water are all agents for root rot. Remove the plant from the container and clean off the soil stuck on it. Replace the soil completely in the pot or use a new one. It needs to be sterilized with vinegar before repotting.
False aralia is typically planted by itself in its own planter.
However, if you’re planting outside, you can pair it with companion plants within a few select varieties to create a gorgeous landscape.
To get your mind jogging, here are some good companion plants for false aralia:
- Fishtail fern
- Butterfly ginger
- Fishtail fern
- Elephant ears
- Variegated peperomia
Don’t plant with
It’s simple when it comes to knowing what to avoid planting false aralia with.
Simply just let it grow in its own planter UNLESS your pot is large enough to handle multiple trunks. This woody evergreen looks amazing when it has that fuller look with multiple plants planted together. Just don’t overcrowd.
Don’t plant multiple false aralias in the same potter if they’re too big.
False aralia is used as a houseplant to spice up any room.
It can be placed in the corner but should be rotated weekly so it gets equal sunlight exposure. It can also be grown outdoors if the conditions are right. Just looking at those serrated green leaves is everything.
Commonly asked questions about false aralia care
Here are some handy tips for getting the most out of your houseplant.
Help! My false aralia is drooping!
Drooping leaves are usually a sign of overwatering or underwatering.
Check to make sure that your pot isn’t clogged. The soil may be clumping at the base preventing it from draining.
Check for pests like spider mites snapping away at the plant. Backed-up water will pool and can also lead to root rot below the soil surface. Use a moisture meter for precision.
Can aralia be grown outdoors? Can false Aralia live outside?
Yes, they can.
False aralia grows natively in temperate zones, so obviously they can survive outdoors.
But for most people, false aralia is grown as a houseplant because they don’t have the right conditions outside to provide for it.
This is why it’s popular as a houseplant. If you’re in USDA zones 10-12, you can plant it in your garden to maximize its growth.
Why is my false aralia dropping leaves?
Dropping leaves is a common symptom of excess sunlight or overwatering.
Only water when the top inch of soil is dry. Move your plant to a place with dappled light rather than bright direct light. This is not a full sun plant. Check for pest activity.
Can you prune false aralia?
Yes, you can prune your plant to keep it looking clean. Prune off any yellow or brown leaves. Since it’s a slow-growing houseplant, it doesn’t need much pruning.
Should I mist my aralia?
Misting is good for keeping the humidity high, which false aralia loves. Spray the leaves gently with a few spritzes multiple times a day to raise the humidity.
Is it an indoor plant?
It’s popular to grow false aralia indoors, but you can also grow it outside if you’re in zones 10-12. It makes a striking houseplant because of its serrated leaves and dark colors.
Does false aralia bloom?
False aralia blooms in nature, but rarely in the household or garden. If you’re growing it indoors, you can expect no blooms or flowers.
Can you grow it in a terrarium?
Since false aralia like high humidity, many hobbyists grow it in a terrarium or aquarium.
Because it grows very slowly and pairs well with moderate light conditions, it’s a popular choice for small terrariums. Dish gardens are another common usage scenario.
Is it a perennial or annual?
False aralia is an evergreen, so it’s neither an annual nor perennial. It grows year-round and doesn’t need to be replanted if correctly cared for.
Resources that you may find beneficial:
- FPS180/FP180: Dizygotheca elegantissima False Aralia – U of FL
- What’s going on with my false aralia? – Reddit
- Plerandra elegantissima – Wikipedia
Enjoy your false aralia
Now that you’re armed with everything you need to know about growing and caring for false aralia, you can enjoy those dark green big green leaves.
This houseplant isn’t nearly as popular as other houseplants, but the elegance of those serrated leaves is worth the extra effort they require to reach their full glory.
This plant can be confused with others, but it’s not! It’s really one of a kind.
Do you have any questions? Have you grown false aralia before and have some tips to share with other readers? Drop your comments in the section below and let us know.
I’ve always been interested in gardening, but I never took it seriously until I was forcefully gifted an orchid. This was what got me into the hobby and I’ve never looked back. I enjoy writing about it, but not nearly as much as getting into the dirt and sculpting the perfect decorative ornamental to enjoy for the times.