December 2020: Fatsia japonica

For my plant of the month at this dreariest time of year I have chosen Fatsia japonica. Yes, it can be regarded as a bit dreary itself – beloved of dark, sombre Victorian shrubberies and difficult dry shady corners. But I think it’s much better than that. Its foliage is dark, but also wonderfully shiny, has a really striking structure and it clothes itself to the ground with this foliage. It can get quite large but responds really well to drastic pruning and will shoot readily from the base to cover any unsightly cuts and of course, it will grow almost anywhere. For me, its crowning glory is when it flowers with starting white buds and stalks at just this time of year. What’s not to like?

Well, if I had to be picky, I’d say its drawback is when it loses its leaves in early summer which can be rather messy as they only slowly rot. But that is far away in December, so I will just enjoy its architectural form once all the summer ephemera have melted away and allowed it to shine.

If you don’t like the dark leaves, there are a few coloured leaved forms, which add brightness as well as structure to a dark corner. The one I’ve had longest is the simple form Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’ with a variable pale rim to the leaves. At a Variegated Plant Group meeting, Bob Brown recommended the form ‘Spiders Web’ as a more striking variant. It is certainly a lot whiter and shines out brilliantly against any dark background. The form of the variegation is rather in the mould of those that can look like virus infection (something of an acquired taste generally), but is it so dense that the overall effect is of the leaves being essentially white. As you can see from the picture, the variegation is only formed as the leaves age, so the flowers still show up well against the ruff of newer leaves at the top.

My final one is a Japanese cultivar which I got at last years Variegated Plant Group meeting (where else!). This is a maculate form with the centre of the leaves flushed with lime green which rejoices under the name of Fatsia japonica ‘Murakumo Nishiki’. Currently it is only small, but I have great hopes of what it will do in a few years when it starts to fill its space.

And as a final plus, the flowers pick really well for a vase for the season’s feast – Happy Christmas!

Sue Dockerill