Several plant species lay claim to the name umbrella plant, among them Darmera peltata, a West Coast woodland plant, hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 5 through 7 and common in southern Oregon and Northern California. Two species of umbrella plants make that make attractive houseplants include Schefflera arboricola, an easy-to-care-for variety hardy in USDA zones 10 through 12, and Cyperus alternifolius, which is hardy in USDA zones 9 and 10. In addition, Syneilesis aconitifolia, hardy in UDSA zones 4 through 8, is an herbaceous perennial native of Japan, Korea, China and eastern Russia, sometimes known as a shredded umbrella plant.
Darmera -- Fast Grower for Temperate Gardens
Also known as Indian rhubarb, Darmera peltata is native to woodland stream banks in the western United States, and its large leaves, clusters of starry flowers and naked stems provide a touch of tropical lushness.
- Sow the seeds in a cold frame in fall and allow plant the seedlings in holes spaced 1 to 3 feet apart -- Darmera is a bushy plant that needs space.
- An easy plant to grow, Darmera thrives in sun or partial shade, although it performs best in hot, humid climates if kept in full shade.
- It can tolerate neutral, acidic or alkaline soil, preferably with a high clay content, and although it has no specific fertilizing needs, you must keep the soil moist or evenly wet.
Schefflera -- Low-Maintenance Houseplant
Because of its small size, Schefflera arbioricola is often known as the dwarf umbrella tree or the parasol tree. Native to the tropics, it must be grown indoors in North America, and it can provide life and color for a kitchen, dining room or den. You can start schefflera from seeds in the spring by germinating them in humus-rich, moist potting soil at 66 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also root cuttings in the summer, using bottom heat.
Schefflera like lots of light, and the leaves will turn leggy and floppy if they doesn't get enough. Keep the umbrella tree in a room with bright filtered direct or indirect light, but keep it out of direct sun, which may burn the leaves.
Water schefflera during the growing season by allowing the soil to dry out, then thoroughly soaking it. Don't soak in winter, but don't let the soil dry out, either; just keep it moist to the touch. Curling or wrinkled leaves are a sign of too little water; blackened leaves that drop off are a sign of too much.
You don't need to fertilize schefflera, but doing so may help the plant produce more numerous and fuller leaves. Give it a balanced 20-20-20 liquid fertilizer monthly during the growing season, using the proportions specified on the label.
If the leaves begin to wrinkle, indicating the plant isn't getting enough light, cut off the wrinkled leaves with a pruning shears sterilized with alcohol. The plant will quickly rebound and look better than it did before.
Cyperus alternifolius -- for Water Garden
If you have a habit of overwatering, then Cyperus alterniforolius is for you because it's virtually impossible to give it too much water. It's known primarily for its foliage -- the flowers are greenish and inconspicuous. To propagate this plant, cut a mature flower head, trim it into a small parasol shape with a 1/2- to 1-inch stem and place it in a 2-inch starter cell filled with potting mixture. Fill the tray with water to just below the soil line. Keep the tray at 70 to 75 degrees F, using bottom heat in the winter.
Because cyperus are tropical plants, they work best as house plants, although you can keep them outside by the pond in summer. They like light shade or full sun, although a plant in the shade may not grow as large as one in full sun.
This plant can't get too much water. One way to ensure it doesn't dry out is to put the pot inside another and fill the outer pot with water to the root level. If the leaf tips become brown, it isn't getting enough moisture.
Soil and Fertilizer
This plant prefers an acidic, peat-rich soil; mix 2 parts peat with 1 part loam and 1 part sand for an ideal growing medium. Fertilize monthly during the growing season with a balanced liquid fertilizer, diluting it to half the concentration specified on the label.
Spider mites are the main pests associated with growing umbrella plants indoors. Prevent an infestation by spraying the leaves once a week with a mist of soapy water. Increase to twice a week if you see evidence of mites.