Umbrella Tree

Schefflera actinophylla

Family: Araliaceae          Origin: Australia, New Guinea, and Java. Naturalised in South East Qld and other places.

While this is an Australian native, the Umbrella tree or Schefflera actinophylla can end up being a nightmare in cultivation and in some applications. Knowing where to plant this beauty can help you avoid many of the common problems that are associated with the Umbrella tree. But, despite its invasive qualities (which we’ll mention lower in this article), It is a good native tree in some ways. Many local animals rely on this tree for its nectar rich flowers and fruit, and the leaves are enjoyed by native tree-kangaroos. In parts of the world where this tree can’t grow outside, it’s a very common houseplant.

A couple of Umbrella trees photographed in Greenslopes, south of BrisbaneArboriculture

Growth Form

This evergreen tree is unique in appearance. It’s a smaller tree, reaching about 15 metres in height. In the wild, it’s often found growing literally ON other trees (epiphytic), which explains its aggressive root system. The adventitious roots are required for it to reach soil.

It bears its fruit high above its canopy on 2 meter high racemes. Overall, the Umbrella tree has a round form at the top.


This tree usually forms a few trunks per plant. The trunk is light grey or tan and slightly cracked. It’s usually gnarled a bit as well. As new trunks gain girth the trunk widens, contributing to the damage this tree causes to nearby structures.

The juveniles have green stems with lenticels and prominent leaf scars while aged leaders turn grey.

There is little branching due to strong apical dominance in each leader. This can make it difficult for homeowners to restrain their height, since they can only be lopped.

The divided trunk of an Umbrella treeFlowering

The flower body of the plant is probably its most recognizable attribute. The flowers themselves aren’t especially showy, but they are borne on large racemes and held high above the entire tree like a fountain. Racemes are light red in color.

They usually have 12 petals though this can vary from seven to eighteen. Each one measures from 3-5mm long. They have the same number of stamens as petals.

The flower of an Umbrella treeFoliage

The leaves are thick and green and are compound, forming in groups of seven.


The fruit are brightly colored yellow and red or sometimes purple and are very attractive to wildlife. They too are held high above the tree’s canopy on the same racemes that the flowers were on. Birds and other animals are commonly found feeding on the fruit, where the seed inside passes through the digestive tract and is spread as the animals defecate.


Umbrella trees have incredibly invasive root systems. They have enormous strength and consistently cause damage to structures. Both the trunk flair and root collars are formed above ground, giving some hint at the root structure below, as the following photo demonstrates.

invasive Umbrella Tree roots



Schefflera actinophylla is easily started from fresh seed, with some scarification to help speed up the process as the seeds are spread around by animals after they eat the fruit that contains it. Cuttings are also easily taken and rooted.


Great care must be taken to allow this tree some room, especially for its very aggressive and possibly destructive root system. Not a good plant for planting in urban landscapes or near foundations, it’s a great tree for planting in natural areas and large parks or pieces of land where it can’t come into contact with manmade creations. It needs bright full sun exposure, and benefits from regular watering and feedings of all-purpose tree food. Check with local laws about planting this tree, as it is advised against cultivation in some areas for being destructive. But in the right space, this Australian native tree is an interesting and ecologically significant tree that bears many benefits beyond ornamentation in the landscape. Complete removal if around buildings or sidewalks is necessary. In Brisbane and southern states, it’s probably out of place because of its:

  • ecological invasiveness, and its
  • invasive roots.

We recommend tree removal in most cases.
An Umbrella Tree planted too close to a building.

An Umbrella tree breaking a fence with its roots.

23 thoughts on “Umbrella Tree”

  1. Hi there, we live on 300 acres , some of it is rainforest, we have quit some open land too and looking for some fast growing shade trees, but I am afraid for our bush to be invaded by it, would this be the case?
    Tia, Lizzy

  2. Hi. My 44 years+ old tree, has just flowers for the first time.
    I live in Perth. Is this unusual. I have a little younger tree out the back, and it flowers regularly. Thanks

  3. Hello David
    I have 2 Scherfflera Actinophyllas in big clay pots and the plants are approximately 2 meters tall and about 40 years old. We have them growing under our veranda in Tasmania. Unfortunately their roots are growing out of the hole at the bottom on the pot, which we don’t want as they are close to the house. Could we pull these plants up and cut the root at the base of the pot? Would this kill the plant? They are currently healthy, lush and bushy due to forever cutting back. The wallabies prune the bottom leaves for us 🙂 We live on 100 acres and I would love to plant them elsewhere, but we get frosts. I don’t think they would survive. Look forward to your advise. Thank you.

  4. I’ve had an umbrella tree in a pot since 1981, so it’s now 39yrs old, totally rootbound and about 2metres tall. Healthy and happy being fed once or twice a year. Maybe a tall bonsai? 😁

  5. Michael John Patrick

    Hi David,
    Can I mulch the fallen stems and leaves of the umbrella tree? I’ve been told that the sap is poisonous and not healthy for mulch on other plants. Does waiting for the fallen foliage to dry out make a difference?

  6. We have several 25 ft umbrella trees and the roots are under the house. and 30 feet long coming out the other side of the house. Can we cut the roots close to the tree and put in a root barrier so we don’t have to cut down the trees. Will the trees die if when the roots are cut so close.

  7. Hi
    We are in the process of chopping down a couple of umbrella trees which are unfortunately too close to the house. Just wondering if someone can tell me, once the wood is dried out, is this species suitable for burning in our indoor fireplace?

  8. Hello,
    I was just wondering if the leaves from this tree are okay to add the compost pile?
    Creates a lot of leaf litter.

  9. Hi David

    I have just purchased a Villa unit in Umina Beach Central Coast NSW and there is a large 10 meter Umbrella tree over 20 years old located next to metal fence between me and my neighbours. It’s approx 5 metres away from buildings. There are large roots growing across the grass an lead to under the ground and building.

    I have bore water flowing 10 metres under the soil so I can Water garden with bore water using a pump

    I am worried the umbrella tree could cause structural damage or is it more likely the roots have found their way into the bore water

    I paid a lot extra for an amazing garden and the umbrella tree gives good privacy so I don’t want to remove it unless it is necessary

    1. Hi Steele. It should be removed for several reasons. Firstly, you are right to be concerned about the building. From an engineering point of view it is of high risk of damaging the slab. Secondly, it’s an environmental weed. The risk of damage to the structure should be convincing enough, though. It’s not just the proximity, the species has robust roots well known for causing damage.

      It’s very unlikely to form roots 10m below ground level.

  10. Hi David. I’ve just moved to Kyogle NSW this week and brought a umbrella tree with me about 1m tall and planted it as a barrier between me and my neighbor and also because the native birds love the flowers and I like birds. But is this a wise move to plant this so called weed 2m from my Queenslander and the neighbors dividing wall. Will it eventually cause me problems with water pipes under the house? I will appreciate your response

  11. Hi David.
    We have a large umbrella tree to be removed. After cutting it down what is the best and most effective Poisen to use to kill it.

  12. David, I have a large, 25 year old umbrella tree in my yard in coastal Southern California. This year is the only year that it has bloomed with the red branches and seed pods at the top. Is this unusual or is this common for a tree this old?

  13. Jeannie Campbell

    My husband and I bought an umbrella tree from… Can you believe… Walmart? We brought it home in the back of our VW Beatle back in 1980!!

    This tree was purchased shortly after we got married and while we live in Wisconsin, it had to be an indoor tree in the fall/winter.

    This tree. Was viewed as a symbol of our marriage.

    While we had a high ceiling, we had to cut it back about 4 times

    Then a horrible situation occurred and I didn’t take proper care of our tree.

    It became very gangly with few leaves that managed to stay on the branches.

    I did a horrible thing and threw it out.

    My husband was crushed and I too regretted that moment of intolerance.

    I desperately want to get a new umbrella tree as a gift for my husband.

    We have survived the loss of our son, and everything has great meaning in our lives. In a world of grief and pain, we must start our lives over. How much it would mean to start our new journey with another umbrella tree!! Our symbol of love!!

    Is there someone who could help me to gift my husband with this special tree???

    I would be eternally grateful

  14. Hi David, we got umbrella tree cut and stump is still in there next to our wall. I have been applying Glyophosate 360 from last 3 weeks every week (undiluted). Now the stump is secreting some type of glue from edges and its turned pale yellow. Is it a indication of stump is getting weak and will dye?

    1. Please enquire about natural, non-toxic ways to do it and not use chemicals. Someone may be able to tell you if vinegar will work or something more effective but not poisonous.

  15. Hi David. Can you tell me if there are any legal requirements in removing the umbrella tree from my back yard? Thank you.

    1. In Queensland umbrella trees are declared environmental weeds so locally there are no legal issues to prevent it being removed.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *