Aucuba japonica ‘Variegata’ has green leaves with tiny yellow speckles above and beneath.
Aucuba japonica is probably not the first plant that one would choose if faced with all the beauties on the market.
However, this reliable plant and its sister varieties are the answer to the headaches of many a plant lover, whether they are facing icy winter’s cold or sweltering summer’s heat or looking for plants for deep shade. And so, year after year, they remain bestsellers. A. japonica and its hybrids are exceptionally hardy, evergreen shrubs that are mainly cultivated for their lovely foliage. Their large, glossy, almost leathery leaves come in a variety of shapes, depending on the cultivar. If you group a whole lot together, it is possible to create a lush tropical scene in a cold winter garden. They are neat, medium-sized shrubs (about 1 m tall) that also look good in pots.
When do they bloom?
The small, almost insignificant, purplish-red flowers appear in spring.
Most suitable climate
The Japanese laurels suit most regions in this country. In very warm, arid gardens they should be planted in the shade otherwise the foliage can burn. They thrive in coastal regions and are wind resistant. Their resistance to pollution and their ability to cope with varying shade patterns mean they afford even the most inexperienced gardener, with a dreary city balcony, a chance to nurture something green.
What they need
Location: full sun and light to deep shade. Also grows well in pots.
Soil: any soil type is suitable, but you will always get the best results if you add liberal quantities of compost. Good drainage is essential – Japanese laurel can survive in dry shade between moisture-robbing tree roots.
Water: exceptionally drought-resistant, but regular watering and a surface layer of mulch around the root system will result in luxuriant growth.
Fertilizing and pruning: fertilize in spring with a slow-release fertilizer and prune if necessary to keep neat. The lovely foliage appeals to floral artists because it lasts so long in the vase.
Good to know
Aucubas belong to the Cornaceae family and are dioecious (male and female flowers grow on separate plants), but this is not really noticeable here in South Africa because most plants sold locally are hybrids or cultivars of female plants that are propagated using cuttings. This obvious lack of male plants results in a mass of beautiful female plants without the striking red berries in autumn and early winter. Perhaps one day we will see a male clone on the local gardening scene, and all our aucubas will suddenly start bearing berries.
In a nutshell
* Endure frost and cold.
* Disease- and pest-free.
* Provide colour in deep shade.