The Sun King

The flowers of ‘Sun King’ aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’, below) are not entirely inconsequential, but the small globes of tiny white flowers are unremarkable from more than a few paces away. This does not deter abundant pollinators (mostly wasps and ants in my garden, both quite harmless) from visiting the blooms over the period of several weeks when they’re flowering. If only for the blooms aralias would hardly be considered for a spot in the garden, but the foliage is delightful, and the yellow of ‘Sun King’ is quite extraordinary.

The bright yellow foliage drags a ray of sunshine into otherwise glum and gloomy parts of the garden. The lush foliage suffers in direct sunlight, so it’s best to plant in areas suited to hostas and other shade loving plants. Green leafed aralias are not so particular, but they are not nearly as wonderful as ‘Sun King’. I’ve planted several in the shade of a large ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maple, and in a few weeks I’ll be planting more into a spot where I’ve removed two large hornbeams and a small forest of bamboo. The area remains shaded by one remaining hornbeam, a ‘Jane’ magnolia, and a large goldenrain tree, and the yellow foliage will provide a colorful contrast to dark green foliage of camellias and azaleas.

Careful siting is essential for aralias, both to avoid the afternoon sun, but also to assure that the eventual size of the plant is considered. Though ‘Sun King’ dies to the ground in the winter, by late spring it will grow to a compact thirty inch, almost woody shrub with a slightly wider spread. I’ll be planting several in this new area, with the idea to plant native Cinnamon ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea, below) to the side and front. In damp ground Cinnamon fern might grow a tad bit too tall for this, but this area should be just dry enough to stunt overly vigorous growth. I think the contrast will be stunning, but I suppose we’ll see by next summer how it works out.

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5 thoughts on “The Sun King

  1. Our peaceful getaway in the foothills of WV’s eastern panhandle is blessed with many towering red and white oaks that dominate almost all of the sunshine, but plagued by this lack of sunshine for plant growing. Only plants we/ve found to do OK are Hostas so far.
    Now very intriqued by your Sun King/Aralias description. Would supplemental watering be an issue, as we’re not living their full-time?
    Are their any particular soil requirements (we’re largely clay/craggy rock)? Lastly, could you recommend source for the plants and planting directions, e.g., when? Are they divisible like Hostas?
    Thanks! As always, appreciate you and your column.

    • From my experience Sun King aralia is carefree. Once established it should tolerate clay and dry conditions. Sun King should be readily available at garden centers, including Meadows Farms locations in Winchester and Harper’s Ferry.

      It seems that aralias spread slowly, though the top of the plant grows quickly. I suppose that it could eventually be divided, but it does not multiply like hosta.

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