Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the October 22, 2017 Newsletter, a special on-the-road edition with notes from near Tepotzlán, Morelos state, MÉXICO, elevation about 5315 ft (1620m), at 18°59′07″N 99°05′59″W

I surprised my host by not recognizing a certain 20-ft tall tree with very distinctive, palmately compound leaves, and producing large, conspicuous fruiting heads, as shown below on a branch at the tree's top:

SCHEFFLERA ACTINOPHYLLA, leaves and fruiting head

One of the tree's palmately compound leaves is nicely displayed at the picture's top, right corner. Notice how the stem-like petiolules of the leaf's many leaflets converge at the top of the leaf's stiff petiole. Below, you can see a close-up of some fruits:


"It's a Schefflera," my friend told me, "often seen as a potted plant in houses up North, and in gardens in warmer areas."

Scheffleras are members of the Aralia Family, the Araliaceae, which often produce palmately compound leaves like these.

It turns out that my friend was only half right. The Schefflera commonly grow up North as a houseplant, and famous for tolerating neglect and poor growing conditions, is Schefflera arboriola, native to Taiwan. My friend's tree near Tepotzlán was a larger species, SCHEFFLERA ACTINOPHYLLA, native to Australia, New Guinea and Java, and much grown outside in tropical climates worldwide.

My friend's Schefflera actinophylla is sometimes known as Umbrella Tree, Octopus Tree and Amate -- names shared with other species. In the tree's native environment, its fruits are eaten by many bird species, and animals such as Musky Rat-kangaroos, Red-legged Pademelons, and Spectacled Flying Foxes.

In Florida and Hawaii the species has become an aggressive weed-tree.