There are two easily confused Umbrella Trees that have been grown for many years in Mediterranean climate gardens. One is Schefflera actinophylla and the other is Schefflera pueckleri—if I were to label them with the most recent nomenclature. However, any old-time gardener will instead remember Schefflera pueckleri as Tupidanthus calyptratus instead. I actually still have an issue with the name change. So for the sake of this post, Schefflera pueckleri will be called by its old name: Tupidanthus calyptratus. In the world of plants, botanists are either lumpers or splitters when it comes to botanical nomenclature. I guess the lumpers won that day.
So what is the easiest way to tell if you have a Schefflera or Tupidanthus? Of course, the answer has to be to wait for it to flower. What do you look for? If the flower is coming off the terminal end of the branch, it is a Schefflera. A Queensland, Australia, native, Schefflera actinophylla shows off what I am referring to. By the way, this is the most attractive Umbrella Tree when in bloom, in my opinion.
You can see the leaves that used to come out of those branches have been replaced by a flower. This forces the plant to make new growing points off the branch in order to continue its growth. Here is a photo of a flower from my Schefflera arboricola “Variegata” that also illustrates what I described above, in that the entire end of the growing point has been replaced by a flower.
The fruit of Schefflera arboricola “Variegata” is quite attractive. It goes from green to yellow to orange to red and finally purple when ripe.
Schefflera or Tupidanthus below?
It is a Schefflera, as it is flowering from the terminal end of the branch. This is a popular New Caledonian plant commonly known as False Aralia or Schefflera elegantissima. Oh wait, it was. Now it is Plerandra elegantissima. This after it was moved from Dizygotheca elegantissima to Schefflera elegantissima. Do you follow? Ah well, most would only know this plant if they saw it with juvenile (immature) leaves, as this is the plant that has an uncanny resemblance to Marijuana.
What would you guess here? Schefflera or Tupidanthus?
This is, of course, Tupidanthus calyptratus, or Mallet Flower. I currently have four variegated ones growing in my yard but unfortunately none were flowering at the time of this post, so I used an iPhone photo I took of one at the zoo a few weeks back. Tupidanthus calyptratus is native to Myanmar and India.
Another interesting fact about the flowers is that Tupidanthus calyptratus produces male and female flowers on each tree (monoecious), but Schefflera actinophylla and Schefflera arboricola only have one gender of flower on each tree (dioecious). So if you want to propagate one by seed, you need both a male plant and a female plant.
Past seeing a Schefflera actinophylla or Schefflera pueckleri in flower, I am really not sure how one could differentiate the two. I have heard people talk of a difference in growth habit or leaf shape, but I just haven’t seen it.