Polyscias - Balfour Aralia, Coffee Tree, Fern-Leaf Aralia, Geranium Leaf Aralia, Ming Aralia, Wild Coffee
DESCRIPTION: This group consists of about 80 tropical shrubs and trees that are native to New Zealand, tropical Asia and the Pacific Islands. They are excellent as houseplants in cold climates and as hedges in very warm ones. These plants are also excellent as Bonsai specimens. These plants are valued for their decorative foliage, which is finely divided and in some species, beautifully variegated. P. fruticosa (Ming Aralia) can grow up to 8 feet high (though it can be kept small by pruning) and is clothed with finely divided leaves. The lower branches of this variety die off as it ages, leaving an attractive corky surface that is bumpy or distorted where the branches had been. A. filicifolia (Fern-leaf Aralia) can grow up to 8 feet high. It has interesting leaves because they vary from broad to almost thread-like. There are also varieties with white mottled leaves. P. balfouriana (Balfour Aralia) can grow up to 25 feet high, but is ordinarily much shorter. This plant has greenish-gray mottled stems and leaves with 3 leaflets edged with white.
POTTING: These plants should be grown in temperatures above 55º F, in full sun or bright light. They can be grown in any good soil; however, they prefer equal parts of loam, peat, and leaf mold, with a bit of sand and charcoal added. Their soil should be kept fairly moist, but not constantly saturated. They'll need less water in the winter. Large plants should be repotted in February or March. Remove the old crocks (if any were added to the container to aid in drainage) and loose soil from the roots and then plant them in larger pots. After repotting, shade from direct sun. Provide a humid atmosphere by misting the plants with water frequently. Water carefully after repotting. You don't want to drown the plants by watering too much until a good supply of roots has filled in the new container. These plants can be kept small through trimming or can be grown to several feet. Trimming the branches encourages bushier growth and thickening of the trunk.
PROPAGATION: These plants can be increased by stem cuttings, root cuttings, suckers, and air layering. Stem cuttings can be taken in early spring. Cut the top of the old plant off to encourage the development of new shoots. When the shoots are 4 inches long, they're detached, the lower leaves are taken off, and they're inserted in a propagating case. Rooting will be faster with a bottom heat of 70º - 75º F. Root cuttings can be made by cutting pieces of old root into lengths of 1 inch. Insert these in pots of sandy soil with their tops level with the surface. Since they have no leaves, it isn't necessary to place them in a closed case. Suckers or shoots that grow up through the soil can be detached with a few roots, potted, and treated the same as rooted cuttings. Air layering may also be done in the spring.
VARIETIES: P. balfouriana (Balfour Aralia); P. filicifolia (Fern-Leaf Aralia); P. fruticosa (Ming Aralia); P. guilfoylei (Geranium Leaf Aralia; Wild Coffee; Coffee Tree) & var. victoriae.
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