In the Garden Now: Gold Dust Plant

Monday, February 1, 2016

Gold Dust Plant, Japanese Aucuba, Spotted Laurel or Variegated Aucuba
Text and photos by Victoria Gilleland

Japanese Aucuba makes a statement in the garden. With those gold spotted leaves it’s got to be saying “Don’t miss me!” The dark green shiny foliage of this plant looks like it’s been spattered with yellow paint from a loaded brush. Years ago when I saw my first Aucuba ‘Variegata’ I thought that it must be exotic and hard to grow. It looked like it belonged in a distant jungle. Boy was I wrong!

In our area this is an easy to grow shrub. It likes full to part shade and regular water while it’s getting established but is quite drought tolerant once it’s been growing in a good spot in the garden for a few years. I like the fact that Aucuba will grow just about anywhere in the shade including tucked under larger shrubs and tall evergreen trees. It even competes well with tree roots. The colorful foliage adds light and texture to the garden year round and is especially welcome on dull winter days.


I’ve planted both the species and a named variety called ‘Picturata’ in my garden. ‘Picturata’ sports a gold patch down the center of spotted leaves. Like many variegated plants, this variety is “not stable” which means it could lose its special variegation and revert to the species. For a few years ‘Picturata’ maintained its unique variegated pattern. Eventually a few branches and leaves began to revert to just spotted leaves with no gold patch. If the gardener is diligent and acts when the species leaves and branches appear they can be removed to stem the tide of reversion. I got distracted and did not do this so my ‘Picturata’ has lost almost all of its gold patches on the leaves.

Picturata reverting to species

You can see the resulting plant in my photo. There are a few ‘Picturata’ leaves towards the base of the plant. The rest of the plant has reverted to the species. I still like the plant and it’s a good example of the reversion of a variegated plant so it’s welcome in the shady south border of my garden where it adds color throughout the year.

Aucuba shrubs are slow growing and typically reach 6 feet high and wide over time. They may be pruned to keep them more compact. They’ve been a healthy addition to my garden with little or no maintenance. If they are grown in too much sun the leaves may scorch and burn, so look for a shady spot for this fine shrub!

Aucuba can be grown in a garden bed, as an evergreen tub plant or even as a houseplant if you’re so inclined. Consider a place for one in your world!

Botanical Name:  Aucuba ‘Variegata’

Note: All parts of Aucuba plants are poisonous if eaten so plant away from children and pet play areas. Explain to your children when they can understand that this plant is to look at not to eat. If you would like more information about plant toxicity check out the Washington Poison Center website.

Victoria Gilleland is the owner of Cottage Garden Designs, a Garden design company specializing in redesign of Residential Gardens, Garden Consultation and Coaching. She has been designing gardens for over 20 years.


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