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What is Schefflera?

By N. Freim
Updated May 17, 2024
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The genus Schefflera includes more than 700 species of flowering plants, ranging in size from shrubs to enormous trees. The plants need plenty of light and moist soil, indicative of their tropical origins across places such as Fiji, India, and Panama. Dwarf species, such as Schefflera arboricola, are popular as houseplants since they need little care other than occasional pruning. Since the genus naturally grows in tropical rain forests, a small number of species have been listed as endangered as the forests shrink.

Schefflera is a genus of flowering plants, shrubs or trees, often with long stems. The group was named for 18th century German botanist Jacob Scheffler. The plants grow in tropical forests and temperate climates across such areas as Australia, Indonesia, Panama, and the Philippine Islands.

With such a large number of plants in the genus, there are of course wide variations in the size of the plants. Some species can grow up to 100 feet (about 30 meters) tall, while others are small shrubs and plants that are popular as houseplants. The plants have clumps of palmate leaves, or compound leaves on woody stems; some varieties also bear fruit. Most of the species grow in shades of green, but some have variegated or purple foliage.

Schefflera arboricola, also called a dwarf umbrella tree, is one of the species often used as houseplants. This variety is hardy and can survive a fair amount of neglect as long as it gets enough light and the soil is kept moist. The dwarf umbrella tree can grow from 9 to 20 feet (about 2.7 to 6.1 meters) tall but can be pruned easily to stay within acceptable heights for an indoor plant. In fact, S. arboricola is sometimes used as an indoor bonsai plant in its native Taiwan.

The umbrella tree, Schefflera actinophylla, is the larger species of the houseplant. Native to Australia, this species can grow up to 50 feet (about 15.24 meters) tall. It branches into several trunks and displays red flowers at the top during the summer. Despite its size, this variety is also popular in the United States as a houseplant, but it may eventually outgrow its space and need to be pruned or cut down into separate plants.

While the genus Schefflera is large, some varieties are on uncertain footing. Because the group is indigenous to tropical climates, the plants are having trouble as the tropical rain forests dwindle in number and size. More than 50 species of Schefflera have been placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, four of them listed as critically endangered.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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