​This Plant Can Add 'Sunshine' to Your Shade Garden

Golden Japanese Spikenard by J. Reeves, UT Gardens, Jackson

The bright foliage of ​Golden Japanese Spikenard can add some "sunshine" to your shade garden. This specimen can be seen in the UT Gardens, Jackson. Photo by J. Reeves, courtesy  UTIA. Download image.

From the UT Gardens
May 2016 Plant of the Month:
Golden Japanese Spikenard

Submitted by Jason Reeves, research horticulturist, the University of Tennessee Gardens, Jackson

Need some sun in your shade garden?  Then Japanese Spikenard ‘Sun King’ Aralia cordata is the plant for you.  

In mid spring just as the sun brightens the sky and warms the soil, from the earth arises one of the most spectacular golden perennials.  The large compound leaves develop on red stems and lend a somewhat tropical feel to the summer shade garden. 

Aralia 'Sun King' forms a dazzling 3-4' tall x 3' wide clump, but reportedly gets larger in cooler parts of the country. Two- foot-tall spikes of tiny white flowers in small umbels are produced in late summer attracting all sorts of pollinators, but especially bees, to the garden. The flowers are followed by dark purple berries that birds will enjoy. 

Perfect for any partly shaded border or woodland garden, Sun King’s sprightly form will steal the show.  It looks good paired with dark-leaved plants such as black mondo, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens', or Crimson Fire™ and Sparkling Sangria™ Loropetalum.  Blue or dark green, large-leaved hostas such as ‘Blue Angel’, ‘Guardian Angel’ and ‘Empress Wu’ would provide contrast in color and texture. Holly fern, autumn fern or lady fern would also make interesting companions. For added summer color, several good annuals would include New Guinea impatiens, caladiums and ‘Dragon Wing’ begonias. It also looks great grown in large pots. 

This plant has proven its durability across our region, and deer resistance is an added virtue.

When grown in 2-3 hours of sun, Sun King's brilliant gold foliage persist into the fall. As long as the soil is kept moist, it will perform well in more sun. However, this plant is best protected from the scorching afternoon sun in the hotter parts of the country. In full shade it loses some of its luster, becoming chartreuse to lime green while still adding texture and form to the garden.  

Sun King prefers fertile, organic, rich, moist soil and is hardy to zones 4-8. 

Reportedly discovered in a Japanese department store’s nursery, Aralia 'Sun King' was brought to the U.S. by noted plantsman Barry Yinger. It is one of the most impressive herbaceous perennial introductions to come to market in years.

Aralia ‘Sun King’ can be seen growing in all three UT Garden locations (Knoxville, Crossville and Jackson). 

The UT Gardens includes plant collections located in Knoxville, Jackson and Crossville. Designated as the official botanical garden for the State of Tennessee, the collections are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. The gardens’ mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, educational programs and research trials. The gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public. For more information see the Gardens website: utgardens.tennessee.edu



Patricia McDaniels, UTIA Marketing and Communications, 615-835-4570, pmcdaniels@tennessee.edu