Encyclopedia of Houseplants

Umbrella Plants Are the Underrated Houseplant That Pros Love

updated May 31, 2024
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Every year there are a few types of plants that gain extra popularity, making them super-trendy and ensuring they pop up everywhere on social media. The umbrella plant isn’t like that. This plant has managed to fly under the radar, but the umbrella plant is a stylish houseplant that’s worth adding to your home’s houseplant display.

What umbrella plants lack in trendiness, they make up for in style (not to mention hands-off care). The umbrella plant is a low-maintenance, easy-to-care-for plant that can add graceful foliage to a room. If you’re looking at these photos and thinking that perhaps these under-appreciated beauties are due for a renaissance in your home, it’s time to get to know what they require. Below, everything you need to know about umbrella plants.

(Image credit: Abby Stone)

Quick Facts About Umbrella Plants

  • Common names: Umbrella plant, octopus tree, Schefflera
  • Botanical name: Can refer to two different but closely related species, the Schefflera actinophylla and Schefflera arboricola
  • Family classification: Araliaceae
  • Native location: Forests of Australia, New Guinea, and Java (Schefflera actinophylla) and forests of Taiwan (Schefflera arboricola)
  • Sun needs: Bright, indirect light
  • Soil needs: Well-draining, sandy soil
  • Water needs: Flexible, but prefer drier soil rather than overwatering
  • Mature height: 50 feet (15 meters) outdoors (Schefflera actinophylla); 8 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) tall indoors or 6 to 30 feet tall (8 to 9 meters) outdoors (Schefflera arboricola)
  • Toxicity: Both Schefflera are toxic to dogs and cats (as well as kids). Sap can cause skin irritation in humans. Keep small children away and wash off any sap immediately to prevent irritation.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Tom Hoerup

Umbrella Plant Varieties

There are two types of plants that are called “umbrella plants.”

If you’re curious which one you have, look to the leaves. If the leaflets are longer than 4 or 5 inches (10 to 13 centimeters), it’s a Schefflera actinophylla; otherwise, it’s Schefflera arboricola.

The two species often look very similar and need virtually identical conditions indoors.

For a more petite option, there are dwarf versions of both, which are popular for bonsai. These stay much smaller than their full-height umbrella plant counterparts.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Tom Hoerup

Umbrella Plant Care

Light Needs

Although umbrella plants do best in bright, indirect light, they can usually tolerate direct indoor light. Know that these plants will grow more slowly and become leggy in medium-to-low light, so you might consider using a grow light if you’re placing your plant in a particularly dark area.

Soil Needs

Like most houseplants, umbrella plants need good drainage so that excess moisture in the soil doesn’t lead to death by root rot. Plant in a pot with a drainage hole, ideally in a peat-moss-based potting mix. Repot every few years in the spring.

Water Needs

When the top of the potting mix dries out, water thoroughly, then let the soil dry before watering again.

Umbrella plants are flexible about watering, but more tolerant of dry soil than overwatering. They don’t like wet feet, so use a pot with a drainage hole.

Humidity Needs

Humidity is generally not a concern, but the plants can be more susceptible to pests like scale and spider mites if the air is too dry. In warm, high-humidity conditions, outdoor plants may even flower (but don’t expect flowers indoors).

Fertilization Needs

Umbrella plants don’t need regular fertilizer, but for faster growth, you can give your plant a standard diluted plant fertilizer once a month during the summer.

Keep the leaves of your umbrella plant dust-free by wiping them with a damp cloth or sponge.

Support Needs

A mature tree may need the support of a stake. You can also prune back Schefflera that gets too big or leggy. Pinch growing tips to encourage a fuller, bushier plant.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Tom Hoerup

Umbrella Plant Propagation

According to plant expert and Palmstreet seller Matt Aulton, the best way to propagate an umbrella plant is via stem cuttings from a healthy plant. As long as your plant is mature enough to have at least four exposed nodes, it will be safe to take a cutting from a node. 

“Cut off the plant, allow the bottom to harden over, and dip it into your favorite rooting hormone,” says Aulton. He recommends placing the plant directly in potting soil in a small container and giving it a generous initial watering, making sure to keep the cutting moist but not soggy. 

Once you water the new plant, place it in bright, indirect light. Enclosing the pot in a clear plastic bag can help maintain humidity, which will speed rooting. Also, keeping it at warm temperatures, 65 degrees to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, will help.

Some people also report success with rooting stems in water before planting in soil. To propagate this way, cut off a stem near the base of the plant and set it in water to allow roots to grow. Once your roots are a couple of inches long, you can plant them in soil.

Where to Put an Umbrella Plant in Your House

As with any houseplant, choose a location for your umbrella plant that best meets the plant’s specific light requirements.

“Position your umbrella plant where it will receive bright indirect light or morning sun,” recommends Lisa Price, the owner of Root Houseplants.

Aulton advises placing umbrella plants in a south-facing window and rotating the plant every few weeks so that it maintains a straight stem instead of bending towards the light source.

How to Repot an Umbrella Plant

Repotting is relatively simple. Here’s the method Price recommends.

Steps to Repot an Umbrella Plant

  1. Slide the umbrella plant out of the plastic nursery pot and examine the roots. 
  2. If any roots have rotted or dried, cut them off with a clean pair of snips. 
  3. Select a plastic nursery pot or a decorative planter with drainage holes that are up to 2 inches large in diameter. 
  4. Add a layer of chunky potting mix to the pot, then place your plant on top of that. Begin to fill around the sides with more potting mix. Stop when you’ve fully covered all of the roots.

Common Umbrella Plant Problems

Umbrella Plant Pests

According to Price, the common pests are “the usual suspects,” such as thrips, aphids, and mealybugs. If your home is arid, keep an eye out for spider mites. Clean the leaves with an insecticidal soap, houseplant-safe insecticide, or horticultural oil to rid your plant of pests.

Root Rot

Overzealous plant parents can overhydrate their plants, which, according to Aulton, can lead to root rot. “Early signs of overwatering are that new foliage will be pale in color and likely yellow quickly,” he says, so reduce the moisture level if you see those signs.

Leaf Loss

If your plant loses leaves, the remedy is simple if you catch it early. “Umbrella plants experience leaf loss if they are overwatered or the temperature is too low,” says Price. Reduce the moisture level if you’re watering too often, or move the plant to a draft-free, warmer location to solve the problem.

Credit: Rachel Jacks

FAQ About Umbrella Plants

How long do umbrella plants live?

When keeping an umbrella plant indoors, they can live 25 years or more with proper care.

Can umbrella plants be grown outside?

According to Price, these showy plants can thrive outdoors in the right conditions. “Umbrella plants can be grown outside in warm climates where daytime temperatures are 15 to 24 degrees Celsius and nighttime temperatures are no lower than 15 degrees Celsius,” she says.

While you might not be able to keep umbrella plants outside year-round, in many places you can bring these plants outside for the summer.

What does an overwatered umbrella plant look like?

Common signs of overwatering include yellowing leaves, leaf loss, light-colored new growth, or no new growth at all. 

What plants are similar to umbrella plants?

When looking for similar plants, Price suggests heading to the genus Cecropia, where a few species resemble the leaf shape and formation.

“A plant that is similar to the umbrella plant would be Fatsia japonica. It’s in the same family and has deeply palmately lobed leaves that give a similar appearance,” she says.

Are umbrella plants toxic to pets and people?

“Umbrella plants are very toxic to pets and should not be kept in places around the home that pets can easily access,” says Aulton.

Humans should also be careful around Schefflera. The sap can cause skin conditions if not washed off immediately and definitely shouldn’t be ingested.

Does the umbrella plant have an interesting backstory? 

Actually, yes! The genus Schefflera pays homage to 18th-century botanist J.C. Scheffler. Additionally, the species name arboricola is also unique. “The specific epithet arboricola means ‘living on trees,’ as this plant is sometimes known to grow as an epiphyte on host trees,” says Price.