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All In the Family: Araliaceae

by Andrew Keys on November 18, 2010

If you’ve been reading this blog for a stretch, you’ll probably guess the family Araliaceae, the Aralia family, is one that’s close to my heart. I’ve been enamored of the genus Aralia since I was but a wee plantsman, and since I’ve given myself over to the trade, the fascination has connected me with people and opportunities I’d have never imagined. Aralia lovers unite!

So there aren’t many plants in Araliaceae you’d necessarily know or love, but it’s important to note the family’s close relationship with Apiaceae, the umbellifers, and consider that. Think of a big fat flowerhead of Queen Anne’s lace, and then take a look at the individual little bits of this big fat flowerhead of Aralia spinosa. Similar, eh?

Besides the genus Aralia, my favorite, Araliaceae includes a few other plants commonly referred to as aralias, even if they’re not Aralias, like Eleutherococcus, or five-fingered aralia, and Fatsia, or Japanese aralia, as well as Kalopanax, the castor aralia. It also includes rice paper plant (Tetrapanax papyrifer), which I’ve talked about here, and ubiquitous office plant Schefflera.

More surprisingly is that the family includes ginseng (Panax spp.), that ever-popular herbal supplement, and all its variants.

MOST surpisingly? English ivy. Yes, dear Hedera helix is actually an aralia. Keep that in mind when you plant it, because many other Araliaceae members are formidable lianas, the kind Tarzan might swing from, and ivy at its worst isn’t far off from that.

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