Eight Lobe-leaved Plant of Japan

Top Photo: Fatsia japonica on Dinosaur Trail.

An evergreen shrub, Fatsia japonica is native to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Here, it’s a common and popular landscape plant which does well in full and partial shade. At the museum, its white umbel flowers bloom in November when it attracts many late season insects. Everything from ants to butterflies come to the flowers for their nectar.

False honey ants or winter ants, are more active during the colder months.

But there are other posts about the insects that are attracted to the fall blooming flower of the plant. What about the name of the plant, Fatsia japonica?

This shrub likes full to partial shade.

The species name japonica is a Latinized term and means “of Japan.” Remember, that’s where the plant originates. The fatsia part, the genus, comes from the fact that the leaves have eight lobes, the word fatsia supposedly meaning “eight” in an older Japanese language.

The leaves actually vary in the number of lobes, mostly from 7 – 9 so the eight is not consistent. I’ve also seen as many as 11 lobes and as few as 5 lobes on the leaves.

Seven lobes.
Eight lobes.
Nine lobes.
Less frequently, 11 lobes.
And even an occasional 5 or 6 lobes (5 here).

Never-the-less, the name Fatsia japonica (the Latinized scientific name) translates to, “the eight lobe-leaved plant of Japan.”

This plant is listed as cold hardy to zone 8 which is just south and east of us, or cuts right through our area, depending upon which Hardiness Zone Map you look at. I’ve been observing the plants here at the museum for 13 years and they seem to be doing well. If we have an early ice storm or hard freeze the flowers may be killed but the plants survive. For those concerned, it doesn’t seem to be on the invasive species list here in North Carolina.

The plant is particularly evident on the Dinosaur Trail. They’re planted in front of and alongside every exhibit on the trail. Stop and check out the flowers, count the lobes on the leaves. See if you can find fewer than 5 or more than 11 and let me know what you find.

Here are some other names for the plant: Big-leafed paper plant, figleaf palm, Formosa rice tree, glossy-leaved paper plant, Japanese aralia, false castor oil plant, Japanese fatsia…you can probably find more common names for “the eight lobe-leaved plant of Japan” with a quick search on the internet.

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