It is an evergreen shrub growing to 8–9 m tall, free-standing, or clinging to the trunks of other trees. The leaves are palmately compound, with 7–9 leaflets, the leaflets 9–20 cm long and 4–10 cm broad (though often smaller in cultivation). The flowers are produced in a 20 cm panicle of small umbels, each umbel 7–10 mm diameter with 5–10 flowers.
It is commonly grown as a houseplant, popular for its tolerance of neglect and poor growing conditions. It is also grown as a landscape plant in milder climates where frosts are not severe. Numerous cultivars have been selected for variations in leaf colour and pattern, often variegated with creamy-white to yellow edges or centres, and dwarf forms. The umbrella plant lends itself easily to the bonsai form and is popular as an indoor bonsai.
Schefflera poisoning is due to the species containing “sharp” calcium oxalate crystals that are insoluble and damage the cells and tissues of the animals ingesting them. Depending on the amount that a pet consumes, the resulting damage (swelling) of exposed tissues and digestive tract may be fatal to the animal. For their own safety, children and household pets should be kept away from consuming this plant.