Gold-dust treeBotanical name: Aucuba japonica...

PLANT NOTEBOOK

January 18, 1992|By Amalie Adler Ascher

Gold-dust tree

Botanical name: Aucuba japonica Variegata

Pronunciation: as-KEW-ba

Family: Cornaceae (Dogwood)

Origin: Japan

Class: Shrub

Display period: Year-round

Height: 6-10 feet

Environment: Part shade

At the house where we lived before moving into a condo, an aucuba bush standing beneath the kitchen window served as my barometer. My first act on entering the kitchen on wintry mornings was to raise the shade and peer out at the plant. If its leaves were curled under, I knew without calling the weather bureau that I'd need to bundle up when I went out.

Certain broad-leaved evergreens like the aucuba and rhododendrons furl their leaves as protection against the cold. Reducing the surface exposed to the air helps to conserve moisture within the plant's tissues -- a loss the roots could not replenish in frozen ground.

But gauging temperature is not the reason for growing the aucuba, even though in our climate it is only marginally hardy. I considered it one of the most handsome plants in my garden, no small compliment given the collection of exceptional material it contained. I had both the gold-spotted and the all-green forms, although the variegated types were my favorite for the glow they shed about themselves even on bleak winter days. Adding to their luster were large bright red berries that stayed on through the winter.

Sheltered in my city garden against the wall of the house in one spot and in the shadow of trees and a sizable American holly in another, my aucubas were still thriving when I left them more than 30 years after transplanting them as small plants from my mother's yard. Not only that, but their numbers had increased, the all-green variety in particular re-seeding itself into quite a stand.

To produce berries, though, you'll need numbers of the opposite sex. One male plant will suffice as pollinator for six females.

Easy to grow, the aucuba is also wonderful for cutting.

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