Elegant and choice are adjectives especially applicable to tropical aralias. These plant not only are handsome but are very satisfactory houseplants.
The Aralia family is a rather mixed assemblage which botanists struggled with for a long time, trying to determine the genus and species. Flowers must be present for exact identification, but aralias rarely bloomed when they first were brought from their native climates into greenhouses of the temperate zone.
The genus Aralia includes about 20 species which are not houseplants, while a number of the tropical members of the family have become popular conservatory and indoor plants and the name aralia has become attached to them. In this group are the familiar Balfour aralia and Ming aralia, which are correctly Polyscias; the false or threadleaf aralia, Dizgotheca, and the Japanaese aralia, Fatsia.
It may surprise you to earn that English ivy (Hedera helix), ginseng, Schefflera, and wild (not true) sarsparilla also are members of the Aralia family. In fact, the Araliaceae family is known familiarly as the Ginseng family.
The tropical species, which are known to many gardeners as aralias, are famous for their distinctive foliage; many have leaves that are both bold and curious. The popularity of several of these among indoor gardeners has resulted in their being readily avaiable in greenhouses and garden centers, perhaps labeled aralia but frequently tagged correctly with their Latin names.
You will find tropical aralias are vigorous and tolerant houseplants. But they do require high humidity. Provide this by setting the pots on a tray of moistened pebbles. As an alternative, put the plant on an inverted clay pot in a large container of water; a brick can also be used to raise the aralia above water level. Evaporation from the water surface and from the brick or upturned pot will afford continuous high humidity. Keep the soil barely moist. Over-watering will most assuredly promote root rot and kill the plant.
Although all aralias require high humidity, they differ slightly in some other requirements. With adequate humidity, they generally will thrive in daytime temperatures of 75 to 85 degrees; night temperatures should be somewhat cooler - in the low 60s. However, Fatsia, the Japanese aralia, prefers day and night temperatures in the 60s.
The Polyscias especially are favorites. The Barfour aralia (Polyscias balfouriana) has three-part leaves, each leaflet rounded, and in some varieties, bordered with white. The Ming aralia (P. fruticosa), which may grow as tall as six feet, has feathery or fine-cut leaves. The gracefully drooping leaflets of the false aralia (Dizygotheca elegantissima) are such a dark coppery green that they appear almost black; threadleaf is an apt description of its seven to 11 leaflets. Fatsia, the Japanese aralia, grows as tall as 4 feet but can be pruned (in the spring) to keep it small. Its leaves are bold, broad and divided like a hand and fingers so it is sometimes called finger aralia.
Pilyscias should be kept in bright light or full sun during the winter, later in the year allow four hours of morning or afternoon sunlight. Fatsia also likes sunlight or bright, reflected light. Dizgotheca does best in curtain-filtered sunlight. Outdoors, in the summer, aralias should be kept in the shade.
Wait several months before fertilizing a recently purchased aralia; the grower has included adequate nutrients in the potting soil for that period. Thereafter, feed every three or four months with any houseplant fertilizer.
Although aralias usually are sold in small sizes suitable for tabletop display, both Polyscias adn Dizgotheca will grow to become "house trees." The Ming aralia is often grown as a single specimen to enhance an oriental decor. The false aralia is effective when two or three plants of varying heights are grown together in one pot.
Aralias are dramatic when used with a spotlight or under ceiling spots; also when placed so the foliage is silhouetted against a bare wall or where it can be viewed against the sky in front of an expanse of glass.
The Aralia family is just one example of some interesting and surprising "family connections" that come to light when you begin learning as much as possible about your plants. One of the many fascinating facets of indoor gardening as a hobby is growth in knowledge combined with growth of plants.