Spotted Laurel (Acuba japonica variegata)

In Albums:gardening plants broadleaf evergreens

A tropical-looking evergreen plant with tough leaves, light green with yellow spots, in a bed of myrtle with lavender blooms

Apr 16th, 2006, by Alex Zorach

This photo shows an Acuba japonica, variegata, also sometimes called a spotted laurel or a gold dust plant. I have also heard this species referred to simply as acuba, and the spotted form as variegated acuba. This plant is not closely related to true laurels, plants in the laurel family. It is called a laurel because its evergreen leaves and shrubby habit make it superficially resemble laurels.

Acuba japonica is native to Japan and China. It has separate male and female plants, and the female plants have sizeable bright red berries, further contributing to the landscape value of this plant. I normally avoid planting non-native plants, but I became interested in this plant when I knew less about ecology and was less committed to growing native plants. I also do not know of this plant becoming invasive in Pennsylvania.

In terms of needs and growing conditions, I have found this plant to be similar to rhododendrons and other shrubby broadleaf evergreens. It seems slightly less tolerant of cold and winter winds than rhododendrons. I have seen it die in cold winters in Ohio, during winters that left rhododendrons relatively unscathed. It is also highly shade tolerant, even the variegated form. The all-green form, however, is a more vigorous grower; this plant grew very slowly.

I grew this plant from a cutting. It was extremely tough and durable, but also extremely slow to take root. I placed it initially in a glass of water, and after months, it had the beginnings of small roots. I then planted it outdoors. It overwintered, but did not grow during the subsequent two summers. Eventually, it began growing, as pictured in this photo. The plant in the background is Vinca minor, or "Lesser periwinkle", which I grew up calling "Myrtle".