Fatsia - A special plant with a strange name

Kathy Henderson Garden Columnist

First, I heard the buzzing sounds and when I looked around to see where these sounds were, I saw a Fatsia in full bloom. I absolutely deplore the proper name of this plant because it sounds like I am making a politically incorrect statement about someone - even if that someone is a plant. I disliked it so much that I looked up its deeper meaning and found out that in Japanese, the name “Fatsi” meant ‘eight’ at the time this plant was named. Today the word would be ‘Hachi’. Why eight? The leaves have seven to nine distinct lobes. Thus ‘eight.’ The genus species name is Fatsia japonica. Its common name, which I have never actually heard anyone call it, is Fig-leaved Palm. So, let’s just call it “Fatsia.”

Blooming Fatsia in Kathy’s garden. Special photo

Fatsia japonica is tropical in appearance, but has a very high tolerance for cold. Mine is planted on the north side of the house in dappled shade and in front of air conditioner units. While Fatsia can grow to a height and spread of nine feet or more, it can be kept lower by removing the older limbs in the spring or summer. The flowers which are white umbels (a group of flowers radiating from a central point) are attractive to bees of all kinds. These flowers will form fleshy black berries which can be planted to form new plants. Remove the fleshy covering before planting.

There are several cultivars: ‘Variegata’ which has leaves with white edges and should be planted in a shady area; ‘Spider’s Web’ which has white speckling over the entire leaf and looks to me like it has red spider mites; and ‘Annelise’ with large yellow and bright green splotches on the leaves.

Blooming Fatsia in Kathy’s garden. Special photo

This plant is outstanding in form and texture and even flower, so it is perfect as a light or heavy shade specimen or focal point. It does well in large pots, as an indoor plant or like mine, just planted in the landscape. While it does well in clay soils, it does suffer root rot if the soil is not well-drained. Harmful insects and diseases are few. It needs little fertilization if established in good soil, but a slow-release fertilizer would improve its growth and color when applied in the spring. Once established, it needs supplemental water only in drought conditions.

It is often crossed with English Ivy, Hedera helix, to form Fatshedra lizei. That will have to be discussed in a future column.