Aucuba japonica

The spotted laurel is the large glossy yellow spotted leaved plant you see in many UK gardens. They have been grown in the UK since 1783 when John Graefer introduced them from Japan. The name Aucuba (often misspelt Acuba) and pronounced Ockcuba.

Take a look at the wide variety of colours, shape and leaf patterning of this tough plant. It can deal with the worst of growing conditions but still shine.

You can also find the internets most definitive list of Aucuba further down this page.

aucuba japonica eclipse
Aucuba japonica 'Eclipse'
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba japonica cho dai ji
Aucuba japonica 'Cho dai ji'
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University

Aucuba hardiness

It's grown for the bright foliage, there are not many shrubs with as bright and cheery leaf colouring as this. They prefers shade and is tolerant of dry soil so a useful plant in the garden. It's also very hardy taking temperatures down to -15°C (RHS H5 rated) so most British gardeners will not have to worry about damage from cold weather.

Bright coloured foliage, evergreen, hardy to -15°C and will grow in dry shade and low maintenance.

Flowers and Berries

Around April to May time small purple almost burgundy colour flowers are produced. If pollinated by a nearby male the females will produce green berries that turn to the distinctive red fruits.

The Fruits often last into winter being visible from October till January. The red berries are eaten by birds as confirmed on Devon Councils list of wildlife attracting plants.

If you prefer white berries then 'Fructu Albo' and 'Leucocarpa' produce them or there is even a white flowering Aucuba japonica 'Variegata'.

aucuba japonica
If you prefer white berries look for 'Leucocarpa' (pictured) or 'Fructu Albo'
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba japonica flowering
The flowers of Aucuba japonica are typically small and burgundy coloured
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University

Distinctive and very hardy evergreen foliage

The distinctively leaved shrub you will probably see most often is Aucuba Japonica Crotonifolia and Variegata although all the many variegated Aucuba do look very similar. It has green leaves that look like they've been splashed with banana yellow paint. There are however several other cultivars and varieties that are rarely seen in gardens including different shaped foliage and plain green leaves.

aucuba japonica ooba nakafu
Ooba Nakafu with distinctive dominsnt central bright yellow splash
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba japonica hime kikufurin
Hime Kikufurin has bold yellow edges to the leaf and multi green centre
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University

You will not be disappointed at this plant's ability to brighten up dark corners. I'd recommend the likes of 'Hime Kikufurin' with various shades of green with yellow colouration around the leaf edge. What about 'Ooba Nakafu' with the distinctive central yellow splash through the centre of the leaf.

aucuba japonica sulphurea new leaves
New leaves appearing on Sulphurea appear light green almost white.
aucuba japonica natsu-no-kumo
Natsu-no-kumo creamy almost white distinctive new spring growth
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University

New spring growth appears a yellow cream almost white colour and will stand out in the darkest of shade. Two notable A. japonica are Sulphurea and 'Natsu-no-kumo' which also perform well. It is also worth taking a look at 'Cho Dai Ji', 'Eclipse', 'Suruga Benten' and 'Goldilocks'.

aucuba japonica daisukes tiger
'Daisukes Tiger'
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba japonica sulphurea leaf colour
The light colours of the Aucuba leaf can turn a light almost fluorescent green in deep shade (Sulphurea pictured)

Shade and drought tolerance

This is a shrub that is famous for its ability to grown in shade and tolerate dry conditions. They are great if you have an area where everything else struggles to grow but this much underappreciated plant really needs to be shown off.

aucuba japonica suruga benten
Aucuba japonica 'Suruga Benten' is low maintenance but far from boring and 'Same old'
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University

Low maintenance

Aucuba do not require much in the way of attention but have quite a big visual impact. You can pretty much plant them and leave them which makes them ideal for those looking for something low maintenance.

It can take pretty much any type of situation but it does not tolerate direct or full sun very well so this is a plant for shade or partial shade. I have found it does well with shade under trees where Aucuba japonica 'Sulphurea Marginata', 'Sulphurea' and 'Picturata' show off their colours to their best.

aucuba hedge
Aucuba can look great as part of an informal hedge.
aucuba hedge with green unripe berries
Aucuba hedge with green berries in November that will ripen to red.

Using Aucuba for hedges

Crotonifolia and Variegata are often used as part of an informal hedge due to its dense rounded habit. As the leaves are quite large compared to most traditional hedging plants it is best to not trim them with mechanical hedge cutters but leave them as the end result will look untidy as you cut through the leaves.

They are slow growing so they will not need much attention but you can prune them if you need to reduce the shrubs size. A hedge doesn't have to have angles and straight edges, they can look great and more natural if you leave them to form a curved and rounded shape.

Dwarf varieties

Growing in shade often means underplanting so you may have limited height restrictions. There are smaller growing dwarf Aucuba that will fit the bill such as 'Nana' and 'Green Dwarf' both under 4ft about 1.2m height. There are a number of others to choose from, anything with Nana or dwarf in the names will indicate a shrub that will reach no more than 4 feet in height over time. You can however keep any Aucuba pruned, even tolerating being cut down to ground level. Pruning is rarely required as they are generally a relatively slow growing species.

aucuba himalaica
Aucuba himalaica has long narrow leaves
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba japonica salicifolia
Salicifolia with long narrow serrated edges leaves.

Long Narrow leaf Aucuba

You can create a more exotic tropical looking effect by adding narrow long leaved varieties of Aucuba into your garden. They do look quite different from the more common variants with longer narrower leaves up to 20cm in length in the case of 'Fujikawa'.

Plain narrow leaf

Aucuba japonica 'Salicifolia'
Aucuba japonica var. borealis 'Honshu'
Aucuba japonica 'Serratifolia'
Aucuba japonica 'Fujikawa'
Aucuba himalaica
Aucuba himalaica var. dolichophylla

Variegated narrow leaf

Aucuba japonica 'Salicifolia' February Star
Aucuba japonica 'Hosoba Hoshifu'

Largest list of Aucuba on the internet

This Aucuba variety and cultivar list I believe to be the most comprehensive on the internet. I gathered the names from a number of sources including but not exclusively from the UK's RHS database, the JC Raulston Arboretum in the States and a number of nurseries.

I'd like to say a special thank you to Mark Weathington and Christopher Todd Glenn from JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University for the permission to use the photographs from their extensive library of Aucuba images.

Aucuba japonica
Aucuba japonica (Chicory form)
Aucuba japonica (cream-white, contorted) - contorted Japanese Aucuba
Aucuba japonica (gold sectored)
Aucuba japonica (gold spot flushing)
Aucuba japonica (Ozzie Johnson dwarf)
Aucuba japonica (Paul James seedling #6) - variegated Japanese Aucuba
Aucuba japonica (thin white margin)
Aucuba japonica (Tyuetso dwarf mottled) - dwarf Japanese Aucuba
Aucuba japonica (USNA #3 - female)
Aucuba japonica (USNA #4)
Aucuba japonica (USNA #5 - female)
Aucuba japonica 'Angelon'
Aucuba japonica 'Angelon'
Aucuba japonica 'Angustifolia'
Aucuba japonica 'Arashiyama' - variegated Japanese aucuba
Aucuba japonica 'Bicolor'
Aucuba japonica 'Big Mamma' - Japanese aucuba
Aucuba japonica 'Cecil-Alice'
Aucuba japonica 'Cho Dai Ji' - Asymmetrical yellow, dark and light green patterned leaves
Aucuba japonica 'Clent Wortley Hall'
Aucuba japonica 'Concolor'
Aucuba japonica 'Contorta'
Aucuba japonica 'Copdock Seedling'
Aucuba japonica 'Crassifolia'
Aucuba japonica 'Crotonifolia' - variegated Japanese aucuba
Aucuba japonica 'Crotonifolia Gold'
Aucuba japonica 'Daisuke's Tiger' - Mainly green central vein fading to speckled yellow margin
Aucuba japonica 'Dentata'
Aucuba japonica 'Derby Gold'
Aucuba japonica 'Eclipse' - Japanese aucuba
Aucuba japonica 'Elegans'
Aucuba japonica 'Elegantissima'
Aucuba japonica f. longifolia - narrowleaf Japanese aucuba
Aucuba japonica f. longifolia 'Angustata'
Aucuba japonica f. longifolia 'Lance Leaf'
Aucuba japonica f. longifolia 'Salicifolia'
Aucuba japonica 'February Star'
Aucuba japonica 'Fructu Albo' - white-fruited Japanese aucuba
Aucuba japonica 'Fujikawa' - Very narrow 20cm long mid green foliage
Aucuba japonica 'Gold Dust'
Aucuba japonica 'Gold Splash'
Aucuba japonica 'Golden Girl'
Aucuba japonica 'Golden Heart'
Aucuba japonica 'Golden King'
Aucuba japonica 'Golden Spangles'
Aucuba japonica 'Golden Wonder'
Aucuba japonica 'Goldilocks'
Aucuba japonica 'Goldstrike'
Aucuba japonica 'Grandis'
Aucuba japonica 'Green Dwarf' (Professor Jonathan Lehrer) - Height to 4 feet
Aucuba japonica 'Hillieri'
Aucuba japonica 'Hime Kikufurin' - Deep and light green leaf with green gold surround
Aucuba japonica 'Hosoba Hoshifu' - Glossy, narrow yellow spotted leaves
Aucuba japonica 'Kameba'
Aucuba japonica 'Ki Mi'
Aucuba japonica 'Koshiji Nishiki'
Aucuba japonica 'Lance Leaf'
Aucuba japonica 'Latiomaculata'
Aucuba japonica 'Leucocarpa' - white berries
Aucuba japonica 'Limbata' - aka 'Sulphurea Marginata'
Aucuba japonica 'Linda Eggins' - Japanese aucuba
Aucuba japonica 'Little Angel' - dwarf
Aucuba japonica 'Macrophylla'
Aucuba japonica 'Maculata'
Aucuba japonica 'Marmorata'
Aucuba japonica 'Meigetsu' - gold-stripe
Aucuba japonica 'Mr Goldstrike'
Aucuba japonica 'Nabaku'
Aucuba japonica 'Nana Rotundifolia'
Aucuba japonica 'Nana Vera'
Aucuba japonica 'Natsu-no-kumo' - Narrow green leaves with pale yellow almost white new growth
Aucuba japonica 'Ooba Nakafu' - Large leaves with dominant central gold splash
Aucuba japonica 'Pacman' - dwarf
Aucuba japonica 'Peachie'
Aucuba japonica 'Pepperpot' - Small yellow/gold spots developed by Hardy Exotics
Aucuba japonica 'Pepperspot'
Aucuba japonica 'Petite Jade' - Rounded habit and dark green serrated edged leaves
Aucuba japonica 'Picta'
Aucuba japonica 'Picturata' - Large central yellow splash
Aucuba japonica 'Pink Champagne'
Aucuba japonica 'Rozannie' - dwarf
Aucuba japonica 'Salicifolia'
Aucuba japonica 'Salicifolia' February Star
Aucuba japonica 'Serratifolia' - Long serrated edge foliage
Aucuba japonica 'Shilpot' - grown in 2005 by Plant Delights Nursery
Aucuba japonica 'Shugetsu'
Aucuba japonica 'Speckles'
Aucuba japonica 'Subaru'
Aucuba japonica 'Sulphurea'
Aucuba japonica 'Sulphurea Marginata' aka Limbata - Light and dark green leaf with pale yellow edge
Aucuba japonica 'Sundance'
Aucuba japonica 'Suruga Benten' - leaf is very serrated blotchy pattern rather than spots
Aucuba japonica 'Tatsumaki' - contorted almost deformed looking foliage
Aucuba japonica var. borealis - very cold hardy
Aucuba japonica var. borealis 'Honshu' - 15cm long leaves
Aucuba japonica var. Maculata
Aucuba japonica 'Variegata'
Aucuba japonica 'Variegata Nana' - grows to 3 feet in height'
Aucuba japonica 'Variegata' (white flowered)
Aucuba japonica 'Viridis'
Aucuba japonica Windsor form
Aucuba japonica 'Wisley Nana' - dwarf 3ft or 0.9m, red berries
Aucuba japonica 'Wykehurst'
Aucuba japonica 'Yokoi's Dwarf'

There are some rarer more exotic larger leaved Aucuba although there is limited information about them in the UK. They are believed to be more tender than japonica but still evergreen.


Aucuba albopunctifolia F.T. Wang
Aucuba chinensis
Aucuba chlorascens - Largish toothed green leaves
Aucuba confertiflora
Aucuba eriobotryifolia
Aucuba filicauda
Aucuba himalaica
Aucuba himalaica var. dolichophylla
Aucuba obcordata
Aucuba omeiensis - Mt. Emei aucuba, green leaves to 20cm long, hardiness -10°C to -15°C
Aucuba robusta

Identify Aucuba Leaves

aucuba japonica ooba nakafu leaf
Ooba Nakafu leaf
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba japonica meigetsu leaf
Aucuba japonica Meigetsu leaf
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba himalaica leaf
Aucuba himalaica leaf
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba japonica goldilocks leaf
Aucuba japonica Goldilocks leaf
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba japonica suruga benten leaf
aucuba japonica suruga benten leaf
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba japonica eclipse leaf
aucuba japonica eclipse leaf
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba japonica cho dai ji leaf
aucuba japonica cho dai ji leaf
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba japonica shugetsu leaf
aucuba japonica shugetsu leaf
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba japonica daisukes tiger leaf
aucuba japonica daisukes tiger leaf
Image:JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University
aucuba japonica salicifolia leaf
aucuba japonica salicifolia leaf.