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In our opinion, umbrella trees are one of the most elegant tall houseplants out there. Its lush drooping leaves, arranged in circles, earned this stunning plant its well-suited name. Outdoors in their native habitats of Australia and New Guinea, these tropical plants can grow up to 50 feet high at maturity. Indoor plants can range anywhere from two to over eight feet tall but can be pruned to maintain a certain height, making them perfect for just about any space. They’re low maintenance and will grow to suit their conditions without trouble—so even a neglected plant should be able to flourish at a small size for quite some time.
- Botanical Name: Schefflera actinophylla
- Common Name: Umbrella plant, Australian ivy palm, octopus tree, schefflera, starleaf
- Plant Type: Perennial tree
- Mature Size: 2–10 feet high
- Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect sunlight
- Soil Type: Peat moss–based potting mix
- Soil pH: 6.0–6.5
- Toxicity: Toxic
Overwatering is a common pitfall with umbrella plants. Wait until the soil has completely dried out to water, and then be sure to water the plant deeply. Feed your umbrella tree standard houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength every six months or so. These plants can be repotted during any season, although they survive being pot-bound just fine for quite a while—they just won’t grow as large and full.
When repotting, be sure to use loose, fast-draining commercial soil, which will decrease the likelihood of root rot. If your umbrella plant is looking leggy, prune back overgrown limbs with a pair of clean, sharp gardening shears (be sure to wear gloves, as the sap from the stems can irritate skin). This will cause the plant to create new growth and look fuller.
Once you’ve pruned your umbrella plant—or if you’re just eager to multiply your collection to share with friends—you can use the cuttings to propagate new plants.
Best Growing Conditions for Umbrella Plant
Your umbrella plant does best with lots of bright, indirect light. In front of an east-facing window is a great spot, but west- or south-facing windows can also work well. If your plant starts looking leggy, that’s a sign that its stems are growing long to try to reach the light source, and it should be moved to a spot with better light. However, it’s best to avoid placing your plant in direct sunlight, which can damage the leaves.
Since the leaves and stems are toxic, place your umbrella plant in a spot where pets and young children can’t reach it.
Your umbrella plant will need warm temperatures to thrive and grow tall. They do best with temperatures that go up to the high 70-degree range and don't drop below the high 60-degree range at night, so choose a warm spot away from drafts or heating and cooling vents to display your plant.
Umbrella Plant Varieties
If you’re concerned about the eventual height of your umbrella plant outgrowing your space, you may also look for a dwarf umbrella tree, also known as dwarf schefflera, or by its botanical name, Schefflera arboricola. This cute, bushy plant—featuring small, compact leaves consisting of round (rather than pointed) leaflets—requires the same care and conditions as its full-sized relative. They grow to only five or six feet high.
In fact, dwarf umbrella plants have become such common houseplants that they may be even more closely associated with the name "umbrella plant" than the full-sized species. Variegated versions with bright green leaves splashed with yellow or cream are also available.
How to Propagate Umbrella Plant
Umbrella plants are easy to propagate using a couple different methods. You can simply take stem cuttings from a healthy mother plant and root them in soil, or you can use air layering to grow a new plant from a leggy or overgrown specimen.
How to Propagate Umbrella Plant Via Stem Cuttings
To propagate your plant using stem cuttings, you'll need pruning shears; a small plant container; well-drained potting soil; large clear plastic bags; rubber bands; and powdered rooting hormone, which can be purchased at nurseries and garden centers.
Step 1: Fill the small container with potting soil, and water the pot so that the soil is evenly moist.
Step 2: Choose a healthy stem from the plant's higher growth, making the cut so that the cutting is at least six inches long. Remove all except for the highest few sets of leaflets.
Step 3: Using a pencil or a chopstick, poke a hole a few inches deep into the soil. Dip the cut end of the stem in rooting hormone.
Step 4: Plant the cutting in the hole, cut end down, and gently press the soil around the stem.
Step 5: Tent the plastic bag over the container so that the sides of the bag aren't touching the leaflets (you can prop it up with a few chopsticks inserted in the soil if need be). Use the rubber band to secure the plastic bag around the base of the pot to create a humid microclimate. You can also keep the cutting in a warm, humid place like your bathroom instead of using a plastic bag.
Step 6: Place the cutting in a warm place with bright, indirect light, taking care to keep the cutting out of direct sunlight. Remove the bag briefly every once in a while to let the cutting air out. Keep the soil evenly moist.
Step 7: When you see new leaf growth, the cutting has rooted and can be cared for as usual.
How to Propagate Umbrella Plant Via Air Layering
Air layering is a great method to use with a tall, leggy umbrella plant. You'll need a clean, sharp blade; sphagnum moss; a piece of clear plastic; twine or twist ties; and rooting hormone.
Step 1: Pick out a healthy stem in the upper portion of the mother plant's growth. Remove the leaves from a three-inch section of stem.
Step 2: In this section, peel back the outer layer of bark until you see the white cambium layer. This is where the new plant's roots will grow.
Step 3: Apply a thin layer of rooting hormone to the cut surface of the stem.
Step 4: Moisten a handful of sphagnum moss, and wrap it around the cut. Wrap the moss in the plastic, covering it completely. Use the twist ties or twine above and below the moss to secure the plastic to the stem.
Step 5: Open the plastic each week, and spritz the moss to keep it damp as needed. Keep an eye out for new root growth in the sphagnum moss and new leaf growth above the wound in the stem. This may take several months.
Step 6: When the plastic is full of new root growth, make a downward-angled cut just below the root ball. Transplant your new umbrella plant into an appropriately sized pot with fresh potting soil, and care for it as usual.
Common Growing Problems
Root rot is the most common issue when it comes to keeping your umbrella plant alive and happy. If you accidentally overwater your plant and the roots are sitting in a pool of water, they'll start to decay pretty quickly. Fortunately, root rot doesn't have to be the end of your umbrella plant. All you have to do is cut off the infected roots and repot your plant in fresh soil.
Another typical issue with umbrella plants? Spider mites. These tiny pests are usually the result of super dry air. Making sure that the area around your plant is always moist and humid will keep these bugs at bay.
Is Umbrella Plant Toxic?
The umbrella plant is mildly poisonous for pets and humans because its sap contains calcium oxalate crystals, which are lined with microscopic spikes. If you touch one of the leaves, you'll probably have a minutes- to hours-long skin irritation that will go away on its own. If it becomes bothersome, an over-the-counter cortisone cream should do the trick.
Schefflera Actinophylla. North Carolina State Extension.
Schefflera. Clemson University Cooperative Extension. December 15, 2015
Schefflera. North Carolina State Extension.
Schefflera Arboricola. North Carolina State University Extension.
Spider Mites. Colorado State University Extension. July 2014
Umbrella Tree. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Toxic Plants. Texas A&M University Libraries. August 11, 2020