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A genus of trees and shrubs, now including Eleutherococcus, allied to Aralia and Fatsia. They have pithy, sometimes prickly or bristly stems; alternate leaves, consisting of three or five leaflets digitately arranged, or sometimes not completely divided, and only deeply lobed. Flowers in umbels, dull-coloured, followed by clusters of fruit very like those of the common ivy, being crowded in spherical clusters and inky black. In gardens, the members of this genus will be chiefly notable for their distinct and striking foliage – of a type very rare in hardy shrubs – and for their black fruits. A light warm, loamy soil suits them all, and they can be propagated by root-cuttings, sometimes by division or offsets. Some give seed freely.
The character which was relied on to distinguish Maximowicz's genus of Eleutberococcus from Acanthopanax, viz., the articulated (jointed) flower-stalk, is not really differentiative, and the two are now combined.
It has only recently been pointed out that if Acanthopanax and Eleutherococcus are united, as they are by most authorities, then the correct name for the genus is Eleutherococcus (1859), while Acanthopanax at the generic level dates from 1863, having previously ranked as a subgenus of Panax (S. Y. Hu, Journ. Arn. Arb., Vol.61, pp. 107-11 (1980)).
Some of the species at present in Acanthopanax started life in Eleutherococcus and thus revert to their original names. The Japanese botanist Nakai considered the two genera to be distinct, and transferred to Eleutherococcus some species which he considered to belong there rather than to Acanthopanax. The remainder of those originally described in Acanthopanax were transferred to Eleutherococcus by. Hu in the paper cited. He points out that the differences that have been used to justify the retention of the two as separate genera do not hold good when all the species involved are considered. And it may be added that to recognise both only complicates matters, since the cultivated species would have to be divided between them. See further under Eleutherococcus in this supplement.