Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ named Perennial of the Year

Features - Plants

Golden foliage and contrasting reddish stems create an impressive, bright display.

August 30, 2019

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’

Chicago Botanic Garden

In late summer, the Perennial Plant Association named Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ its 2020 Perennial of the Year. Find out why it deserves such accolades and why you should consider adding it to next year’s lineup.

Phenomenal foliage

‘Sun King’ emerges mid-spring featuring large, rounded clumps of golden yellow compound leaves. If it receives a few hours of sun a day in the landscape, the foliage will remain yellow all summer. In heavier shade, the foliage ranges from chartreuse to lime green.

Multi-season interest

The brightly colored foliage contrasts beautifully with reddish-brown stems. In mid- to late-summer, delightful racemes of tiny white flowers appear, followed by deep purple berries. The fruit is good for birds, but not edible for humans. Bees will visit the flowers in summer.

Terra Nova Nurseries

Not just for show

Aralia cordata, commonly known as Japanese spikenard, mountain asparagus or udo, may also be used for cooking. Young shoots of this plant are considered a culinary delicacy in Japan where they are cultivated in underground tunnels. The taste is similar to asparagus. White fleshy roots are eaten or prepared like a parsnip. Udo leaves may be eaten as a vegetable when young.

Production pointers

Plant the large plug into a trade 2-gallon container for best results. Aralia is a quick grower and becomes too large for smaller containers. 20 count plugs will finish a trade 2-gallon container in roughly 6-8 weeks at 65°F. Consistent moisture is important for Aralia. Do not allow plants to dry out. Provide light to moderate shade. Too much shade will cause the plant to lose its bright color.


In the landscape

This shrub provides a tropical look but is hardy in USDA Zones 3-9. It grows quickly to at least 3 feet wide by 3 feet tall but will likely grow larger. It’s reported to be deer resistant. Use in partially shaded areas and at the back of borders or as a focal point. Companion plants include Dicentra sp., Heuchera sp. or Athyrium sp. Introduced to the North American trade by Barry Yinger, this hardy shrub will likely wow consumers.

Sources: Missouri Botanical Garden, Walters Gardens, Terra Nova Nurseries