Trochodendron aralioides

Sometimes it’s a mystery to me why some plants remain so rare.

I first met Trochodendron aralioides when I moved to Cornwall nearly 15 years ago, and it’s a plant that has remained in my ‘top 10’ ever since. Try as I might, it’s hard to think of a single other evergreen shrub that has quite the presence, quite the character of this one species.

Trochodendron aralioides is found in the evergreen forests of South Korea, southern Japan and Taiwan, where it grows anywhere from 15ft-50ft+ (5-20m) depending on altitude and conditions. This is an adaptable species, which makes it very useful in gardens, and its high altitude range gives it a substantial degree of hardiness.

The big appeal of Trochodendron aralioides is in its foliage; bold whorls of leathery leaves held almost horizontally on a shapely shrub… who can resist?! If you’ve admired Acer palmatums for their habits then this is a plant that will be of interest.

Trochodendron aralioidessmall

The better your garden conditions the more this species will thrive; aim for a humus rich soil that isn’t too wet or absolutely dust dry, and ideally shelter Trochodendrons from cold winter winds. They are perfectly happy in part or full shade, possibly scorching a little in baking hot sunshine, so think ‘edge of woodland’ conditions and you should be fine. Apart from that they’re really easy and forgiving, even thriving in a pot long term (assuming you can get water to them when they become potbound), and as for hardiness I know of plants growing happily in the middle of the UK (probably around USDA z7?) without major problems.

Trochodendron in woodland, Devon, UK

The form of T. aralioides shown here is from Japan, and is the most commonly found form in the UK. The Taiwanese form is much faster growing, has a more open habit (at least when young), and tends in my experience to have paler ‘fresh green’ leaves rather than the dark leaves of the Japanese form, and lacks the characteristic spots on the leaves that you see with most of the plants in cultivation.

This shrub works well in gardens as a feature plant in a container, an isolated specimen in the ground or as part of an ‘exotic’ garden.