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