Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cussonia paniculata

Scene of south patio with Cussonia paniculata on the left

Cussonia paniculata
     I first saw this plant at the fabulous garden that Roger Raiche used to have in the Berkeley hills.  For those who don't know, Roger Raiche is a plant geek extraordinaire who has a business and website called Planet Horticulture in California.  This plant is commonly called the mountain cabbage tree and it hails from South Africa (of course!--it seems like most great plants hail from there).  It is a member of the araliaceae family which contains more than its fair share of cool plants, including the aralias, tetrapanax, Scheffleras, and various plants whose names end in panax.
     The plant in the two pictures is one I got from Dig Nursery on Vashon Island, a ferry ride away from Bainbridge Island.  Dig is a wonderful nursery and if you are ever in the area, be sure and give them a visit.  Dig had acquired this cussonia from San Marcos Growers in Southern California. I believe that this particular plant is the one known as Cussonia paniculata ssp. sinuata, and it is different from the regular Cussonia paniculata in that the leaves are more cut.  I got this one in a 5 gal. container and it was only about a foot high.  What you see in the picture is the result of at least 5 or 6 years of growth.
     I had acquired 3 other identical cussonias from Dig at the same time and they were also equally as large, but they had not branched like this one. They grew straight up and looked like something from The Cat and The Hat with a tall straight stem and a cabbage looking canopy on the top. I believe this one branched because something damaged its growing point at some time, thereby causing the branching.  I find the branched specimen much more attractive than the non-branched one.  The fact that my cussonia branched when the growing point was damaged leads me to believe that if one wanted a cussonia to branch, cutting it off at the level that one wanted to induce the branching might do the trick.  While I have not actually tried this, I am constantly urging my friends to do it to their Dr. Seuss looking cussonias. Thus far they have declined.
     Sadly, I lost this specimen one winter when its pot broke.  I gave away my other big cussonias because I got tired of hauling them in and out of my sunroom every year.  I have now acquired some baby cusssonias from Annie's Annuals.  They look like they are the straight species of Cussonia paniculata and not ssp. sinuata.  I also recently acquired one that is ssp. sinuata from Cistus Nursery
     I have found that these plants do best in full sun in our climate. Ones that are grown in shade or part shade here don't look that good--they are not full like the ones in the picture but are lanky and sickly looking. These plants also appreciate water and fertilizer in the summer. They do not have any particular dislikes about fertilizer.  They need to be taken inside in the winter.  I can tell you positively that they are not hardy here.  In winter, they can be stored pretty much dry, although it is possible to keep them in full growth by watering them and giving them light. Since I tend to ignore my indoor plants, it is fortunate that you can get away with not watering them at all in the winter.  They may drop all their foliage, but once they are brought back out and watered and given light they will start back into growth.
     If I lived in a climate where you could plant these in the ground outside, I would probably have a forest of them.  What are all those people in Southern California thinking if they haven't planted a cussonia in their garden yet?


  1. Yes! That's what I thought it was but it looked too big to possibly be true. I was hoping you'd discovered some sort of hardy look-alike. Ah well. Lovely plant and you've given me hope that mine will one day be as large.

  2. Hi Linda, yes, these tries like full sun. Here in South Africa they grow naturally in the more temperate climate parts of our country and they do not like severe cold. Mind has already formed 4 heads due to severe frost over a few winters, but luckily is still going after 8 years. Best you move to South Africa then you can have your forest of them! he he! Regards