Schefflera actinophylla: Octopus tree

Family: Araliaceae
Common name: Octopus tree, Australia umbrella tree, Umbrella tree, Ivy palm, Queensland Umbrella tree

One look at this tree and you would know why it’s called the Octopus tree. It does look like an Octopus or a Jelly fish with a central dome-like head and radiating leaves, that flow down from the dome. It’s a perennial tree that grows to a height of 15 meters, with multiple trunks separating a little above the roots. The separate trunks can grow to the same height and form one large octopus on top; or grow to different heights forming multiple octopuses at different levels.

The leaves are palmate, each having 7-16 leaflets arranged perfectly in an umbrella shape. The flowers are a very unique feature of the Octopus tree; a big, long inflorescence that looks like fireworks on top of the tree. The raceme holding the flowers can grow up to 2 meters tall producing around 1000 red flowers.

The flowers contain sweet nectar; and a thousand of them opening at the same time attracts all birds, bees and insect pollinators towards it. These flowers then form dark purple fruits, a favorite of many birds and insects. These birds then efficiently disperse the seeds in places far away from the parent tree.

The fruits are usually produced on mature trees that are over 10 years old, thus restricting rampant spreading of the trees. It is considered an invasive plant in some parts of the world, and controlled by burning or by using biological methods. Once established, the tree needs very little water and maintenance; although it prefers full sunlight.

Propagation is from seeds or stem cuttings.

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