I guess you could call it a GMO. The plant is an artificial combination of two entirely different plants. They are in the same family but not even in the same genus, let alone the same species. It is a cross between English Ivy (genus Hedera) and Japanese aralia (genus Fatsia). Fatshedera was originally developed in France over a hundred years ago.
Another name for the plant is bush ivy, and while it was artificially contrived, it doesn’t exactly fit the modern definition of a GMO. Neither does Leyland cypress, also a cross of two plants from different genera.
To be a true GMO a plant must be infused with a gene or genes from another entirely different species. In addition, the plant must remain the same species and not be some separate hybrid one. GMO corn is still corn and GMO soybeans are still soybeans. The difference with Fatshedera is that the resulting offspring is entirely different than either of its parents.
English ivy is a trailing vine that climbs using aerial roots. Japanese aralia is an evergreen shrub. Combination of the two yields a plant that is naturally sprawling. It can cover a trellis or be used as a ground cover. With frequent pruning, bush ivy is easily trained into a shrub. These stem cuttings root easily, usually without rooting hormone.
Shiny leaves are much larger than those on English ivy but much smaller than Fatsia leaves. Plants may be either variegated or solid green. Fragrant flowers show themselves in late summer and fall and are in ball-shaped clusters of white flowers.
From my experience, bush ivy is slightly more winter hardy than Japanese aralia but far less hardy than English ivy. In a hard winter, some of the tips will die back a little. This is because it grows well in cool weather and doesn’t go into full dormancy until late in the fall.
Fatshedera also thrives in a wide variety of soil types. It probably grows best in partial sun situations, but it readily handles full shade and tolerates full sun quite well.
This cross also makes a great houseplant. It has few pest problems. Occasionally scales and mealybugs attack it, but it tolerates salt spray and pollution very well. Spider mites don’t seem to bother it as much as they do either of its parents. Bush ivy can grow in the brightest to only moderate indoor light levels.
Fatshedera will not reproduce from seed. Propagation by cuttings is the preferred method to increase the numbers of this plant. This isn’t surprising, as most crosses from different species are infertile. Mules are the cross of a male donkey and a female horse, and they’re sterile too.
Since these plants won’t reproduce by seed there is very little chance that they could become invasive. One drawback is that all parts of the plant are poisonous if swallowed.
Fatshedera is an interesting plant that few people cultivate. It is easy to contain and works well in the ground or in a pot. It also makes a tough houseplant.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.