Birds in the Garden · Garden Design · Perennials

Aralia ‘Sun King’

Aralia 'Sun King' - 1

We have all heard the adage, ‘Good things come in small packages,” but sometimes great perennials come in large packages. Case in point: Aralia ‘Sun King’.

Aralia cordata

Aralia cordata, commonly called Japanese spikenard and mountain asparagus, is a large-leaved perennial that quickly grows anywhere from three to six feet tall and wide depending on growing conditions.

Aralia cordata - leaves

Its leaves are compound (made up of leaflets) and very large – up to three feet long.

Aralia cordata - green berries

Its flowers are large, too. Spikes of white flowers begin blooming in late summer, attracting pollinators. As flowers fade, reddish-purple berries form in fall. They are not to be eaten by people, but birds love them.

Aralia cordata is an attractive plant toward the back of a shady border where its large, dark green leaves contrast beautifully with finer-foliaged perennials like ferns or golden or variegated hostas. I really like this plant.

Aralia 'Sun King' - between Sorbaria and green Aralia

And then I discovered ‘Sun King’. It has many similarities to its parent – size, habit, flowers and fruit, but what elevates Aralia ‘Sun King’ to my top ten perennials list is its COLOR! Like rays of sunshine, leaves emerge bright gold in spring and retain their color if they receive a few hours of direct sun each day. In a shadier situation, leaves turn chartreuse.

Aralia 'Sun King' - compound leaf

Reportedly, aralias self-sow and naturalize in the shade garden, but I have not seen any seedlings. This may be because I mulch heavily. I am going to scatter some berries this fall and see what happens.

Aralia 'Sun King' - in front of Japanese maple
Planted in the fall of 2014, this plant is now nearly five feet tall and four feet wide!

If I haven’t yet convinced you that you need to stop what you are doing and head to your local garden center to buy Aralia ‘Sun King’, let me recap its best qualities:

  • Grows quickly three to six feet tall;
  • Large leaves contrast with fine-textured perennials;
  • Flowers in late summer when color is especially appreciated;
  • Birds love their berries in fall; AND
  • Bright foliage brightens a partly-shaded garden.

When you get back with your new Aralia ‘Sun King’, get some compost and a shovel, and garden with me!

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2 thoughts on “Aralia ‘Sun King’

  1. Our landscape contractor insisted we plant two of the Aralia Sun Kings and we are so glad! Both are in a partial shade, only 2 to 3 hours of sun and they are beautiful. But, we have an area in the south garden area which receives nearly 5 to 7 hours of sun. Is this area too much sun for this plant? The full size of a mature Aralia is perfect for the area.
    Thank you

    1. I think it would be worth a try, although it will may require more water in this much sun. I have one in a spot that receives full sun from noon to 3 p.m. and it does great. It is bigger than the others I have in more shade. It is currently almost five feet tall and four feet wide. Do you have a spot to move it if it doesn’t work? If you do, I would try it and just move it if it doesn’t work. Please let me know how it does – I would love to know.

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