Friday, April 02, 2021

Japanese Laurel (Aucuba japonica)


Berries of Japanese Laurel (Aucuba japonica). Frome, 28 January 2021.

Japanese Laurel (Aucuba japonica) is native to Japan, Korea and China. It was introduced into Britain in 1783, and became very popular in gardens from about 1850, especially in variegated forms.

Since the introduction of the male Aucuba from Japan this genus of hardy evergreens has become one of the most popular and useful of our ornamental shrubs. For many years this genus was represented in this country by only one variety -- the variegated Aucuba japonica -- a female kind.  . . .  The introduction of the male Aucuba not only resulted in giving the means for producing new and improved varieties, but it also gave the easy power to clothe the female plant with crops of crimson-coloured berries. Thus additional beauty was given to our old favourite, the Aucuba japonica . . .

(The berries are very bitter and somewhat toxic.) 

The Aucuba was popular because it required little maintenance, grew happily in shade (even dry shade), and in polluted air. 

It will also grow well within the smoky preecincts of large towns, and for planting in city gardens and squares, this Aucuba will endure the worst atmosphere in the very heart of London itself, suffering no more injury than the plane tree and the chrysanthemum -- two more of the best subjects for growth in the city . . .
It requires an effort of the historical imagination to understand the Victorians' enthusiasm for gloomy combinations of Aucubas and cypresses and yews and Euonymus and box. Perhaps the key sentence is : the Aucubas are "most useful subjects for relieving the bare and cheerless appearance of beds after the removal of the bedding plants. . ." In that chillier tubercular era, gardeners were above all trying to muffle the bleakness of Britain's natural winter landscape.
The same article tells us that Aucubas are easily grown from seed (i.e. planting the berries), but this method tends to produce a preponderance of male plants. 

Wikipedia says that the leaf variegation is caused by the Aucuba bacilliform virus (Aucuba ringspot virus). That's a confusion of two different things. The variegation is genetic, appearing on fresh healthy leaves. The Aucuba ringspot virus was first reported in 1980 in Japan (but has now spread to New Zealand and the UK). It causes yellow ringspots and mosaic symptoms (yellow veins, mottling, stunting, curling).  

Berries of Japanese Laurel (Aucuba japonica). Frome, 28 January 2021

Aucuba japonica (an unvariegated form). Sussex, 9 March 2021.

Aucuba japonica (an unvariegated form). Sussex, 9 March 2021.

New buds and leaves of Aucuba japonica. Frome, 2 April 2021.



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