Aralia, Araliaceae: “Spikenard”
The plant commonly referred to as “spikenard,” with its lush, sometimes untamed and spiny foliage, might not sound like a pleasant addition to a living room. But beyond being incredibly easy to care for, Aralia has roughly 70 very different varieties—so even if you’re not keen on the spiky look, you’re sure to find a style you like. Here’s everything you need to know about this popular plant.
Above: Perched in an elevated pot, a Ming Aralia plant adds lushness to a reading corner. Photograph courtesy of Sprout Home.
“Aralia” generally refers to roughly 70 species of evergreen trees, perennials, and shrubs commonly found in the mountainous, wooded regions of Asia and the Americas. Varieties can vary greatly, from spiky, unkempt bushes to more demure shrubs with glossy, round leaves. Some species have berries, others can have rather prickly stems and leaves.
Above: Aralia plants grow from kokedamas in this set from Terrain. (The set is currently unavailable.)
Some well-known varieties of Aralia include Devil’s Walking Stick, Ming Aralia, California Spikenard, and Angelica Tree. Ming Aralia is popular as a houseplant, but most of these other varieties are commonly found in the wild.
Above: The leaves of some varieties are jagged. Photograph courtesy of Terrain.
A relative of ginseng, some types of aralia root have been used to make teas and root beers and as a balm for wounds and burns. (We don’t suggest trying this at home.)
Above: Flower Muse sells bunches of fan-shaped aralia leaves as an alternative to flower petals.
- When potted indoors, Aralia plants do best in direct sunlight, making them ideal for a low windowsill or the sunniest corner of the living room.
- Keep a glass spray bottle nearby. Tassy de Give, owner of Brooklyn plant shop Sprout Home, says: “Aralia require high humidity, so invest in a good spray bottle and mist them daily or every other day.”
- Whether you’re investing in a full plant or not, aralia leaves can be used as distinctive decor. Frame them or scatter them on a tablescape.
Keep It Alive
- Aralia has very thin, fragile roots that can rot easily. Water it only when the top several inches of soil are completely dry. Then, “they like a good soaking (think monsoon),” says de Give.
- To maximize drainage and minimize over-soaking, use a peat-based potting soil and a relatively small pot.
- Aralia are prone to mealybugs and other insects. Keep an eye on the leaves, discard any rotten growth, and wash or wipe the plant if you spot any insects.
Above: A different variety of aralia, the Aralia Fabian (Polyscias Scutellaria), has glossy, rounded leaves—quite different from its spiky relatives. This cultivar is available in three different sizes from Etsy.
Above: ‘Blackie’ (Black Aralia, also known as Polyscias Guilfoylei) has extremely dark green leaves. This variety is available on Etsy.
Above: Graphic, Victorian-era botanical prints featuring aralia plants are also available via Etsy. This one is circa 1890.
For more easy-to-care-for houseplants, see our posts:
Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for aralia with our Aralia: A Field Guide.
Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various houseplants with our Houseplants: A Field Guide.
Interested in other tropical plants for your garden or indoor space? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various tropical plants with our Tropical Plants: A Field Guide.