Weeds of Wednesday: Invasive-to-be?

Australian umbrella tree (Heptapleurum actinophyllum), shown above at Osprey Acres Stormwater Park and Nature Preserve, is terribly invasive in south Florida. For years, most every “cookie-cutter” landscape included an Australian umbrella tree, most usually planted under the eveas of the house though its ultimate height can be 40′ tall. Other common names for this plant include umbrella tree and schefflera since its “old” botanical name was Schefflera actinophyllum.

More recently, dwarf schefflera (Heptapleurum arboricola) has come to be widely over-planted. Like the Australian umbrella tree, dwarf schefflera has palmately compound leaves, but they are much, much smaller. Its common name is a bit of a misnomer: “Dwarf” schefflera also can grow to be 40′ in warm climates. This fast-growing plant can grow up to 3′ per year, which it has done in our neighbor’s yard …

Most often, this plant is pruned and pruned to maintain an unnaturally small size. When it is allowed to grow up tall, it flowers and fruits profusely.

The UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas does not characterize this plant as problematic, yet. It was first assessed in 2007 and then re-assessed in 2017.

Dwarf schefflera is regarded as highly invasive in Australia where it has proliferated in xeric hammocks, scrub lands, sand hill, beach dune, coastal forests, mesic forests, ruderal communities and riparian areas, according to the Invasive Species Compendium: “It has highly invasive behaviour in tropical and subtropical areas and is classified as a weed in the Global Compendium of Weeds”.

Watch out for this Asian plant when you visit natural areas. Look for better choices for your own landscape.

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