Schefflera arboricola (Serenoa repens) is a small evergreen shrub or small tree with white flowers. It grows from 2 to 5 feet tall and it bears purple berries in spring. Its bark is smooth and glossy, its leaves are opposite, slender and alternate, and they have five leaflets each; the last leaflet is shorter than the others. The stems are stout and narrow, reaching only to the tips of their branches when erect. They are grayish green above and pale yellow beneath. Their fruits are round, red, and slightly oblong, and they resemble tiny blackberries.
The leaves of this species vary in color from light purplish brown to dark reddish brown. There is one pair per leaf. The petioles (leafstalks) are notched at the tip to form stalks 1/2 inch long and 3/4 inch wide. The stems are short and slender, reaching only to the tips of their branches when erect. They are grayish green above and pale yellow underneath.
The leaves of this species may grow up to 6 inches high and 4 inches across.
The foliage is edible but it does not taste good. The fruit is very hard, so it must be crushed before eating it. If you want to eat the seeds instead, then crush them first before eating them!
This plant has a great many names in many different languages. In English, it is called the deer-hat tree, the white poui, the white puka, the monkeypod, and the tree lucerne. In the Hawaiian language it is called “poui”, which means “quick-growing”. In South Africa it is called the monkey bread tree. The leaves of this plant are the original source of the drug Serenoa (in its purified form) which is used to treat BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia) in men.
The fruit and the leaves of this species are poisonous if ingested by humans or animals. The bright red berries are thought to be the most poisonous part of this plant! If any part of this tree is ingested without boiling or cooking it first, then severe nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea will occur within a few hours.
This tree is easy to grow provided that it is given enough water and sunlight. It is a sturdy species that can grow well even in poor soil conditions. It can survive in full sun or full shade. It can also survive in a wide range of temperatures as long as it is not exposed to freezing temperatures.
New plants can be grown from seed. Each fruit contains about five or six seeds, but they must be leached in water first before they can be planted. This process takes about a week. Sow the seeds about 1/4 inch deep in good quality soil that has been enriched with compost. When the seedlings are about 4 inches high, transplant them into larger containers.
From then on they can be transplanted into larger containers as they grow.
For a faster crop, the young plants can also be propagated from cuttings. Take 4 to 5 inch long stem tip cuttings and remove the leaves from the lower half. Treat the cut end with a rooting hormone and stick it in lightly moistened soil. Keep the soil barely moist and the cuttings should develop roots in about a month. From then on, treat as before.
The tree is very attractive to bees, birds, and butterflies. The flowers are also used to make leis. It is a popular tree in South Africa due to its rapid growth and tolerance of poor quality soil and drought. In some areas the trees are grown as a fodder crop for livestock feed.
Trees can grow up to 30 meters tall!
The scientific name of this tree is Gliricidia sepium. The genus, Gliricidia is named after the Portuguese name for this tree, gliriciea, while the species namesepium derives from the fact that the leaves are in pairs (Greek: sepidion) and look like they are joined to form a cylinder.
Gliricidia sepium is not related to the poison dogwood (Dampha virginiana), but it does belong to the same plant family as the Cassia trees. The shade tree known as Cassia septentrionalis is also in this family.
Sources & references used in this article:
Floral Anatomy of Asian Schefflera (Araliaceae, Apiales): Comparing Variation of Flower Groundplan and Vascular Patterns by MS Nuraliev, DD Sokoloff… – … Journal of Plant …, 2011 – journals.uchicago.edu
Flower morphology and relationships of Schefflera subintegra (Araliaceae, Apiales): an evolutionary step towards extreme floral polymery by MS Nuraliev, GV Degtjareva, DD Sokoloff… – Botanical Journal of …, 2014 – academic.oup.com
Phytochemical screening, total phenolic content and in vitro antioxidant studies of leaf, bark and flower extracts of Schefflera spp.(Araliaceae) by HR Deepa, MS Nalini – Journal of applied pharmaceutical science, 2013 – japsonline.com
Schefflera arboricola by EF Gilman, DG Watson – Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences …, 1999 – hort.ufl.edu