Aucuba japonica, commonly called spotted laurel, is a rounded, shade-loving, evergreen shrub in the Garryaceae family, a small family that includes just two genera Garrya and Aucuba. It typically grows to 6-10' (infrequently to 15') tall, unless pruned shorter. Native to moist woodland areas, thickets, valleys and along streams from Japan and China to the Himalayas. Coreaceous (leathery), glossy, elliptic to narrow-ovate, medium to rich green leaves (each to 8” long) have coarse marginal teeth on the upper half of each leaf. Tiny purple-maroon flowers with creamy white anthers bloom in early spring (March-April). Each flower has four sepals and four petals. Plants in this genus are dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants). Male flowers appear in upright terminal panicles (cymes to 4 1/2” long). Female flowers appear in shorter clusters from the leaf axils. Pollinated female flowers are followed by ellipsoid, one-seeded, berry-like drupes (to 1/2”) which ripen to red in fall. Fruits often persist on the plant until spring.
Genus name comes from the Latinized version of the Japanese name aukubi for these shrubs.
Specific epithet means native to Japan.
‘Variegata’, sometimes commonly called gold dust laurel, is a cultivar whose green leaves are attractively and irregularly variegated with yellow spots and blotches. Foliage color can vary considerably depending on the amount of sun exposure. Best foliage colors generally occur in part shade locations. Yellow spots on the deep green leaves may fade in too much shade. On the other hand, green leaf color may fade to various shades of yellow sometimes with accompanying foliage burn in full sun locations.