Aucuba japonica 'Suruga Benten'

Common Name: spotted laurel 
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Garryaceae
Zone: 7 to 9
Height: 2.00 to 4.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 4.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Maroon
Sun: Part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Hedge
Leaf: Colorful, Evergreen
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Drought, Air Pollution

Culture

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.

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.

'Suruga Benten' is a time-honored cultivar developed in Japan and grown mostly for its evergreen, variegated foliage. Mature plants will reach up to 4' tall with a 4' spread. The serrated leaves (up to 5" long and 3" wide) are flecked and marbled with creamy white to yellow variegation against a contrasting dark green backdrop. The new foliage emerges bright cream-yellow before taking on its variegated coloration. In early spring, upright panicles of small maroon flowers bloom from the terminal ends of the branches. 'Suruga Benten' is a male clone, and will not produce fruit.

Problems

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

Garden Uses

Mass for a low hedge, or use as a specimen plant in a mixed border. Tubs, planters and containers for patios and terraces. Indoor houseplant for cool rooms.