Aucuba is Not Perfect, but Nobody’s Perfect
Aucuba can be grown from hardiness Zones 7a to 9B. The people who live in those zones, south of the Mason-Dixon line and along the coastal perimeter of the U.S., either love it or hate it. I’ve seen it sold as a houseplant, probably because of its glossy, leathery, colorful leaves. I love it.
I’ve never noticed the flowers, and the large red fruits are only on female plants, rarely available in bread-and-butter nurseries. Most cultivars grow about four feet tall. The red berries clash with the variegated leaves, but they look striking on the all-green cultivars. The leaves are amazing. The greens are deep and dark and the variegated varieties have screaming blobs of chartreuse and yellow.
There are a few reasons people hate it. A lot of southerners remember their mothers or grandmothers using ‘Gold Dust’ in flower arrangements, rooting the ugly, thick stems in water on a sunny windowsill, and giving it away to friends. It was very popular in the sixties, but people are tired of it now. I’m not. Shrubs go in and out of fashion, and this one has not seen the “old is new again” stage in the nursery industry. Maybe five years from now.
When it gets diseased, it looks like something out of a horror flick. Stems and entire branches go completely black—black, mind you—if they contract one of the rots that attack it in poorly drained, nematode-infested soil. Other manifestations of their problems include necrosis, fungal growth, wilting, and necrotic spotting. Just the names sound disgusting!
If you plant it slightly above grade in good soil, keep mulch away from the roots, and cut out problem branches back to healthy tissue with clean clippers, the problems go away. Those fixes are quick and easy and don’t involve chemicals. Anything that doesn’t involve regular spraying is okay by me.
Plant Aucuba in the shade or the foliage will burn. Here’s why I love Aucuba—you can plant it in fairly deep shade and it will stay relatively dense. The bright variegation lightens up dark corners. There are so few plants that provide substantial mass in deep shade! This shrub deserves respect, for that reason alone.