I admit, I have a soft spot for chartreuse-leaved plants in the landscape. They are the exclamation points in an exciting landscape story often dominated by the more muted greens, or the flamboyant colors of flowering plants. Even among the attention-seeking blossoms, ‘Sun King’ gets noticed.
I remember when I first saw the Aralia ‘Sun King’ in a greenhouse at a large wholesale nursery where I work – it was love at first sight. Its consistent color and mounding habit sealed its fate as an addition to my plantaholic-induced collection of specimens. When exposed to time spans of 2 to 3 hours in the sun, the foliage turns a buttery golden yellow, but I actually find the creamy bright lime foliage it forms in shady locations preferable and easier to marry with other elements of a landscape. The leaves don’t fade in late summer, either; the foliage remains bright and consistently colored throughout the growing season.
Name: Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’
Common name: Japanese spikenard
Hardiness: Zones 3 to 9
Mature height: 3 feet to 6 feet
Mature spread: 3 feet to 6 feet
Classification: Rhizomatous herbaceous perennial
Landscape use: A bright accent plant for landscapes with partial shade
Ornamental characteristics: Golden to chartreuse leaves; attractive white inflorescences followed by deep purple fruits
In mid- to late summer, between about July and September, 2-foot-tall bloom spikes emerge bearing white, fireworks-shaped blossoms. Honeybees and other pollinators are attracted to the blooms. Although the blooms are marginally showy, they aren’t the main attraction. Soon to follow are gorgeous, highly ornamental, glossy purple berries that are inedible to humans but a delight to birds. However, both foliage and berries seem to be somewhat resistant to deer foraging.
Aralia ‘Sun King’ prefers moist, fertile, humus-rich soils that are well-drained. Locate these plants in an area protected from strong winds to keep the leaves from tattering. Its best location is one with morning sun and afternoon shade; protect from hot, dry locations. Luckily, it has no serious pest or disease problems, although it will get infested with common garden insects such as aphids or spider mites if other infested plants are nearby.
‘Sun King’ makes a great anchor plant for a perennial bed, along with other shade plants such as Hosta, Heuchera, ferns and Astilbe. It mixes well with mounding grasses, such as Hakonechloa or Nassella, as well.
Place ‘Sun King’ in areas that need a spot of light, such as in the dappled shade of a deciduous tree or at the edge of a wooded area. Use near water gardens or pools, or in containers for a color splash at an entryway or on a back patio. Although it is fast-growing, it will behave itself and not overpower other plants.
Although it is much hardier than many of its tropical and more well-known houseplant cousins, ‘Sun King’ is also suitable addition to your indoor landscape.
Native to the grassy, forested areas of Korea, eastern China and Japan, ‘Sun King’ was discovered in a Japanese department store nursery by noted horticulturist and plant explorer Barry Yinger. In its native lands, new shoots are eaten as vegetables and are said to taste similar to asparagus. The roots are sometimes used in China as a substitute for ginseng and are considered medicinal.