Skeleton Flower

Diphylleia grayi, the skeleton flower, is a species of perennial plant in the family Berberidaceae. Skeleton flowers are also known as the umbrella plant or the Asian umbrella leaf. It can also be defined as a mystical flower. And finally, it’s often referred to as the chameleon of the woods because of its changing appearance. It is native to northern and central Japan. The plant is distributed from north to central Honshu, Hokkaido, Mount Daisen, and Sakhalin.

The leaves are large and shaped like large, fuzzy umbrellas. The flowers bloom from June to July. The flower then appears, a delicate, white bloom that becomes translucent when wet. When they dry up, the flowers turn to a faded white while the plant prepares itself for its fall show of reddish seed stalks covered in clusters of bright blue berries (they do look something like blueberries). Skeleton flowers grow well in moist, wooded, mountainous areas, preferably in a colder climate.

Table of Contents


12 - 36 inches

Width-Circumference (Avg)

1 - 3 feet

Approximate pH

4.5 - 7.0

Growing Skeleton Flower

How to Grow Skeleton Flower From Seed

Growing skeleton flower from seed is notoriously unreliable, but sometimes it is the only available method, since nursery-grown plants may not be available. The seeds will need cold stratification, so it's best to store them in the refrigerator for several months before planting them at a shallow depth in trays filled with a seed-starter mix in late winter, about six weeks before the last frost date. Keep the trays moist, in a bright location but out of direct sunlight. Be prepared for some disappointment, as only a fraction of the planted seeds will germinate and sprout. The seedlings can be transplanted into the garden after all danger of frost has passed.

Another method is to plant the seeds directly in the garden in fall, allowing winter temperatures to perform the cold stratification.

How to Get Skeleton Flower to Bloom

Be patient with skeleton flower, as it can take up to three years for a young plant to reach flowering maturity. Poor flowering on well-established plants is usually traced to inconsistent moisture. Skeleton flowers like to be damp, so make sure the soil does not dry out. Because tree roots can absorb a lot of ground moisture, a skeleton flower colony planted beneath shade trees may require twice-weekly watering during dry weather.

Less frequently, a lack of nutrients can cause poor flowering. Feeding is usually not an issue for these plants if the soil is very fertile and heavy in organic material, but in more barren soil, a good dose of spring fertilizer may stimulate the plants into producing more flowers.

Skeleton Flower Care

It's best to buy established nursery plants from a nursery, but skeleton flower is an unusual specimen that can be hard to find outside of specialty nurseries—and they often sell out of limited stock very quickly. Sometimes the only option is to purchase and plant seeds, though this can be a tricky operation, as the seeds don't germinate well and it can take a full year to develop a viable plant.

Skeleton flower is a woodland native to the colder mountainous regions of China and Japan. To grow this flower you will need to mimic those conditions: shady understory area under the canopy of deciduous trees, protected from strong winds, and growing in consistently moist, undisturbed soil that is rich in organic material from fallen tree leaves.

If you do manage to provide the right location, skeleton flower is quite easy to maintain. Throughout the growing season, just remove the dead foliage so that the new leaves can unfold without hindrance. Skeleton flower is not commonly affected by any serious pests or diseases.


Skeleton flower is very sensitive to harsh sunlight. It requires a shady location, preferably woodland, where it is fully protected from the hot midday and afternoon sun. Any direct sunlight it receives should be the morning sun.


The soil should be deep, rich in humus, and consistently moist yet very well-drained. Sandy soil with large amounts of organic material is ideal. To mimic the plant's native habitat, where skeleton flower gets a constant supply of decaying organic matter, mulch the plant with an ample amount of compost or leaf mold every year.


Skeleton flower requires consistent moisture with naturally moist soil. During a dry spell, water it slowly and deeply, preferably by drip irrigation or soaker hoses.

Temperature and Humidity

Skeleton flower needs a relatively cool, temperate climate, and it likes humid air. It won’t do well in regions with hot, dry summer weather. The plant dies back in winter and requires a winter chill period to reset itself. In colder climates, covering the plant crowns with a thick layer of organic mulch helps to protect the roots from frost-freeze cycles that can be deadly.


If there is not enough natural organic matter from fallen leaves, you can add a complete fertilizer, diluted to half strength, in the early spring.

Propagating Skeleton Flower

Diphylleia grows stems from its thick underground rhizomes. The best way to propagate them is by dividing these rhizomes. Division every few years will also help rejuvenate overgrown root clumps. Here's how to do it:

  1. In early spring, use a shovel to dig up the entire rhizome clump.

  2. Use a sharp knife to divide the clump into sections, each section including a portion of the root crown.

  3. Replant in the desired location, with the crown side of the division just barely covered with soil. Plant the divisions fairly close together if your goal is to speed up the creation of a colony.

Be patient, as these slow-growing plants will take several years to reach maturity and establish a new colony.

Potting and Repotting Skeleton Flower

Gardeners who live in colder regions who are looking for a unique specimen can grow skeleton flower as a potted plant, using ordinary commercial potting soil amended with plenty of compost. The pot can be of any material, provided it has good drainage. The plants should be kept outdoors during the growing season, then moved to a sheltered location (cold frame or unheated porch) and allowed to go dormant for the winter. With spring arriving, slowly increase the watering and acclimate the plants over several days before moving the containers outside permanently for the summer. These are slow-growing plants that will require repotting only rarely.

Do not try to grow skeleton plant as a traditional houseplant, however, as it needs a cold-induced dormant period to flower.


When grown within its accepted hardness range, these plants require little winter protection, but a thick layer of mulch may be some help in northern climates (zone 4). Don't bother to clip off the leaves or plant stalks, as the dead plant material simply becomes part of the mulch layer that these plants need to thrive.

Pests and Diseases

Actually, there are none. Not really. Skeleton flowers are not much affected by any pests or diseases, making this plant a very easy-care addition to any garden.

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