Dwarf Schefflera (Heptapleurum Arboricola)
Technically, the gorgeous Dwarf Schefflera (Heptapleurum Arboricola) is native to Taiwan, Australia, and South China. But you’d be forgiven for thinking it was from Switzerland—because this all-purpose stunner is the Swiss Army knife of the tropical plant world. Whether you want a captivating bonsai tree, a showpiece specimen houseplant, a small tree or even (in the right climate) a unique-yet-effective hedge, Dwarf Schefflera is an ideal solution.
Dwarf Schefflera also looks incredible in any of those situations thanks to its unique and heavenly foliage. Each leaf of a Dwarf Schefflera is actually a rich, green pinwheel of 5-11 oval leaflets, each 2”-4” long, that fan around a central petiole (stem, basically) like the vanes of an old-fashioned windmill. An individual leaf is elegant and intriguing. A whole plant’s worth somehow exudes vibrant life while also feeling refined and stylish. It’s a tasteful tropical, even if it’s so full of those crazy-cool leaves that you can’t even see the woody branches.
If planted outside (zones 10-12), Dwarf Schefflera may even bloom. Spikes of tiny red (usually), pink, or white flowers will appear, and eventually produce small, cranberry-sized seed pods that start out yellow and slowly turn orange, red, purple, then black. Edible? No. But memorable for sure.
Despite its zesty appeal, Dwarf Schefflera is durable, unassuming, and has very basic, easy-to-manage needs. It’s happy with light ranging from bright indirect (even full sun in some locations, though it may need protection on hot summer afternoons) to medium low. It prefers to have a deep drink, then let its top 2” of soil dry before the next watering. It has minimal fertilization needs and is largely resistant to pests or diseases. It’s also easy to prune into most any shape, from a single-stemmed specimen houseplant to a multi-stemmed hedge, a bonsai … you can even train to an espalier shape. What an amazing, wonderful plant. We love it.
Characteristics and traits of a Dwarf Schefflera (Heptapleurum Arboricola)
Scientific Name: Heptapleurum Arboricola (formerly Schefflera Arboricola)
Common Name: Green Arboricola, Dwarf Schefflera, Hawaiian Schefflera, Dwarf Umbrella Tree, Australian Umbrella Tree, Parasol Plant, Octopus Tree, Starleaf
Indoor: All year in temperatures above 60F
Outdoor Zones: 10-12
Type: Perennial evergreen; propagated by stem cuttings, air layering, or seeds
Mature Height: 4’-6’ indoors, 10’-25’ (outdoors)
Mature Width: 3’-4’ indoors, (6’-15’ outdoors)
Plant Height when Shipped: XXXXXX
Growth Rate: Medium-Fast
Flower: Rare indoors. Spikes covered in tiny white, pink, or (usually) red flowers
Foliage: Deep green compound leaves composed of 7-11 oval blades 2-4” long arranged in a halo around a central stem
Plant Care and Advice for Dwarf Schefflera (Heptapleurum Arboricola)
Grown In: Inside: all zones year round, Outside: zones 10-12
Light Requirements: Bright indirect to medium-low indoors and out. Can handle full sun, but may need afternoon protection in some settings.
Water Requirements: Drench, then dry. Water generously, allow to drain, wait for the top 2” of soil to dry before watering again.
Drought Tolerance: High
Temperature: Likes indoor room temp. 65°F-85°F. Consider bringing indoors when temp falls below 50°F.
Air Purification: Good
Toxicity: Toxic to pets and people. Can cause symptoms including vomiting, swelling, and difficulty swallowing/breathing if ingested.
Fertilizer: General at ½ strength 1-2 times monthly during growing season
Container Friendly: Yes - With good drainage
As with most tropicals, the most important factor to keeping a Dwarf Schefflera healthy is drainage. Give your Schefflera a heavy pot (they can get top-heavy) with a drainage hole and fill it with fast-draining soil. Commercial potting soil mixed 2:1 with perlite works well, as does a three-way blend of equal parts garden soil, peat, and perlite or sand. Repot as usual and withhold fertilizer for 6-8 weeks after repotting to avoid fertilizer burn.
Dwarf Scheffleras are renowned for their ability to withstand neglect and still look fantastic. Like most tropical plants, they adore bright indirect light. However, they can also handle medium or even medium-low light—they’ll just grow more slowly and may be a bit “thinner”. They can even withstand full sun in many situations, though they may require a bit of respite from the afternoon sun in the very hottest, most exposed locations.
Water-wise, use the “drench and drain” method. Give the plant a nice, deep drink, then let the soil drain completely and do not water again until the soil is dry to 2” down. Dwarf Scheffleras are typically fine with household humidity, but they respond extremely well to light misting, humidifiers, or being placed on a tray filled to the top with pebbles and to the not-quite-top with water. They also do best when sited away from anything that can create a humidity-sapping breeze: A/C or heating vents, exterior doors, etc.
Dwarf Scheffleras need surprisingly little fertilizer considering the amount of leaves they have. A half-strength dose of general liquid fertilizer once every 2-4 weeks during the spring/summer growing season is plenty. If new growth seems wilted or pale, feel free to increase the frequency gradually until the plant recovers.
Scheffleras are easy to prune. Just cut the plant into the shape you desire, if possible making each cut just ahead of a leaf bud or branch joint.
Heptapleurum Arboricola is occasionally described as being very similar to another Dwarf Schefflera, which has the scientific name Schefflera Arboricola. This appears to be a misunderstanding as the two are, in fact, the same plant. Its scientific name changed during a re-sorting of genera a few years back.
Heptapleurum Arboricola does, however, have a close sibling: Schefflera Actinophylla, which looks nearly identical but can grow to nearly 50’ in height in the wild. Surprisingly, despite its greater maximum size, it too makes an excellent, easily pruned houseplant.
Dwarf Schefflera Heptapleurum Arboricola sometimes develops unusual, bark-covered air roots that reach from the branches back toward the ground almost as if the plant is melting. This is 100% normal.
Heptapleurum Arboricola tends to drop older leaves as it grows, so if lower leaves turn yellow and fall off, there’s no cause for alarm. However, if an excessive number of leaves are yellowing and dropping, the possible causes include over-watering (this is the most common), under-watering (very rare), too much heat, excessive temperature variance (such as near an exterior door or A/C vent), or too little light.
Blackened leaves with mushy stems is a sign of root rot. Repot into dry soil ASAP and either decrease watering frequency or increase drainage (or both). Conversely, wrinkled, withering leaves may signal a need for more water.
As a general rule, Dwarf Schefflera (Heptapleurum Arboricola) has few pest problems. But they can contract mealybugs, scale, aphids, thrips, and particularly spider mites. Oddly enough, plants kept indoors are more likely to become infected. Misting and other humidity-increasing practices will help prevent spider-mites, and all pests can be treated with neem oil and/or regular leaf-cleanings.
Though this species is fairly disease resistant, it is not entirely immune. Brown spots are a likely sign of alternaria or phytophthora fungi, treatable with copper-based fungicide. Water-like blotches (think the spots on a glass in the dishwasher) or beige spots are likely pseudomonas leaf blight or xanthomonas leaf spot, respectively. The best solution to these afflictions is to trim and destroy the infected leaves and fertilize the plant to make sure it’s healthy enough to recover and regrow.
Heptapleurum Arboricola is typically propagated by cutting, air layering, or seed. For cuttings, simply cut a strip of stem (green is better than barky) 4”-6” long and strip off all but the top few leaves. Dip the cut end in rooting powder (optional, but recommended), stick it about 2” deep in well-drained potting soil, and place it somewhere warm with bright, indirect light. Keep the soil damp (covering with a plastic bag can help) and watch for new green growth to signal that the root system has developed.
Air layering is slightly more complex. Select a flexible stem that can bend to reach the ground. Remove just a bit of any bark on that stem and bend the stem so that the area with no bark is buried shallowly in the soil (you will likely have to use a separate pot). Use a stake, rock, or other weight to hold the stem in place and keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Within a couple weeks, the stem should begin to root at the place where it touches the ground. Once it clearly has rooted, it can be cut away from the parent plant.Finally, If you happen to be fortunate enough to have a Schefflera that flowers and fruits, you can collect the seeds and plant them to produce more Scheffleras. Soak the seeds in warm water (140°F is ideal) for 12 hours to loosen them. They’ll absorb plenty of water, so use about 4x as much water as you have seeds. Plant ½”-1” deep in appropriately well-draining soil and keep that soil slightly moist and as close to 75°F as you can.