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Plant of the Week: Gold Dust Aucuba

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in "Plant of the Week." Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

Plant of the Week

Gold Dust Aucuba
Latin: aucuba japonic 'Variegata'

Gold Dust Aucuba plant with many dark green leaves speckled with yellow

OK, I admit it. I like variegated plants -- generally the gaudier the variegation the better.

Not all of my gardening friends agree and several have suggested I attend Variegated Anonymous, but so far I’ve convinced myself I don’t have a problem. It seems to me that the more ornamental characteristics a plant has, the better it is. It must be a character flaw because I use the same principle when building an omelet -- the more stuff you add the better it is. Subtlety is lost on me.

The gold dust aucuba is a 6-foot tall evergreen shrub with rich green, gold spotted leaves that are two inches wide and seven inches long. While officially hardy only as far north as zone 7 in Arkansas, sudden temperature drops, such as we experienced in the mid 80's, can cause severe injury even there.

Aucuba is native to Japan and China and was introduced to England in 1783 by John Graeffer. It was brought to the United States in the 1860's by Robert Hall, the same person who was unfortunate enough to introduce Hall’s honeysuckle, which now runs rampant across the eastern U.S. woodlands.

Aucuba is a member of the dogwood family. It produces small, rather insignificant four-petaled brownish blooms in the tops of the plant in the spring. Individual plants may be either male or female. The female plants, provided a male is around for pollination, produce clusters of bright red, inch-long fruit in the fall and winter.

The golden variegation patterns are inherited from momma. If the female plant is variegated, the seedlings will be variegated regardless of what the male looks like. If the female plant is green and papa is variegated, the seedlings will be green. This indicates that the cause of variegation is not under the control of the DNA of the nucleus but probably under the control of the chloroplasts where photosynthesis occurs. Chloroplasts float in the juices of each cell and are inherited from the female parent.

Aucubas require shade. While many of the plants we grow in the garden simply tolerate shade, gold dust aucuba must have it. If exposed to full sun the leaves burn severely and turn a nice crunchy black. It maintains a nice compact form in the shade with its yellow variegated leaves glowing throughout the summer months when contrasted with the green backdrop of other shrubs and trees.

Aucubas should be planted in a reasonably fertile, well drained soil that can be watered during dry weather. They respond well to fertilization, but fertilizer should not be used with reckless abandon as it can encourage soft growth and increase the chance of winter injury.

If plants are overgrown, shear them back in the spring just before growth begins. The trimmings root easily -- I’ve seen them root even in water.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - July 9, 1999


The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.