Aucuba japonica 'Variegata'

Common Name: spotted laurel 
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Garryaceae
Zone: 7 to 9
Height: 6.00 to 10.00 feet
Spread: 5.00 to 9.00 feet
Bloom Time: March to April
Bloom Description: Purple-maroon
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Evergreen
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Heavy Shade, Clay Soil, Air Pollution


Winter hardy to USDA Zones 7-9 where this shrub is best grown in moist, organically rich, well-drained soils in part shade to full shade. Plants need significant amounts of shade in hot summer climates (young leaves will often burn in full sun). Established plants have very good drought tolerance. Plants tolerate average to nutritionally poor soils and most city air pollutants. Avoid overly moist to wet soils. Site in locations protected from strong winds, particularly near the northern edge of the growing range. Plants will generally tolerate temperatures to -5 degrees F., which means they may survive in some Zone 6 plantings particularly in sheltered locations. Easily propagated by cuttings or from seed. Take cuttings from both male and female plants (plants are dioecious), and label them by sex in order to ensure that the female plants in a new planting will be pollinated by a nearby male for purposes of bearing fruit. Plants grown in containers may be left outdoors year round in warm winter areas, brought indoors in winter in cold winter areas, or grown year round as houseplants. Container plants require consistent moisture when placed outside in summer with monthly applications of a liquid fertilizer, but should be given less water in winter. Indoor plants require a cool room with temperatures in the 50-65 degree F. range.

‘Variegata’ is a female cultivar which produces its best leaf colors in part shade. It is best propagated from cuttings in order to duplicate the desired variegated leaf color.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Aucuba japonica, commonly called spotted laurel, is a rounded, shade-loving, evergreen shrub in the Garryaceae family, a small family that includes just two genera Garrya and Aucuba. It typically grows to 6-10' (infrequently to 15') tall, unless pruned shorter. Native to moist woodland areas, thickets, valleys and along streams from Japan and China to the Himalayas. Coreaceous (leathery), glossy, elliptic to narrow-ovate, medium to rich green leaves (each to 8” long) have coarse marginal teeth on the upper half of each leaf. Tiny purple-maroon flowers with creamy white anthers bloom in early spring (March-April). Each flower has four sepals and four petals. Plants in this genus are dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants). Male flowers appear in upright terminal panicles (cymes to 4 1/2” long). Female flowers appear in shorter clusters from the leaf axils. Pollinated female flowers are followed by ellipsoid, one-seeded, berry-like drupes (to 1/2”) which ripen to red in fall. Fruits often persist on the plant until spring.

Genus name comes from the Latinized version of the Japanese name aukubi for these shrubs.

Specific epithet means native to Japan.

‘Variegata’, sometimes commonly called gold dust laurel, is a cultivar whose green leaves are attractively and irregularly variegated with yellow spots and blotches. Foliage color can vary considerably depending on the amount of sun exposure. Best foliage colors generally occur in part shade locations. Yellow spots on the deep green leaves may fade in too much shade. On the other hand, green leaf color may fade to various shades of yellow sometimes with accompanying foliage burn in full sun locations.


Generally easy to grow. Root rot may occur in poorly-drained or overly-wet soils. Watch for winter dieback in cold winter areas. Southern blight. Fungal leaf spot. Potential insect problem are nematodes, scale and mealybugs. Spider mites can be troublesome indoors.

Garden Uses

Hedge. Screen. Background. Tubs, planters and containers for patios and terraces. Window boxes. Indoor houseplant for cool rooms.

Foliage of ‘Variegata’ will help light up a shady landscape area.