Aucuba species are native to eastern Asia, from the eastern Himalayas east to Japan. The name is a latinization of Japanese Aokiba. They are evergreen shrubs or small trees 2-13 m tall, similar in appearance to the laurels of the genus Laurus, having glossy, leathery leaves, and are among the shrubs that are mistakenly called laurels in gardens.
The leaves are opposite, broad lanceolate, 8-25 cm long and 2-7 cm broad, with a few large teeth on the margin near the apex of the leaf. Aucubas are dioecious, having separate male and female plants. The flowers are small, 4-8 mm diameter, with four purplish-brown petals; they are produced in clusters of 10-30 in a loose cyme. The fruit is a red berry 1 cm diameter.
Three species (A. chinensis, A. himalaica, A. japonica) have traditionally been accepted, but the recent Flora of China accepts ten species:
- Aucuba albopunctifolia. Southern China. Shrub to 2-6 m tall.
- Aucuba chinensis. Southern China, Taiwan, Myanmar, northern Vietnam. Shrub to 3-6 m tall.
- Aucuba chlorascens. Southwest China (Yunnan). Shrub to 7 m tall.
- Aucuba confertiflora. Southwest China (Yunnan). Shrub to 4 m tall.
- Aucuba eriobotryifolia. Southwest China (Yunnan). Small tree to 13 m tall.
- Aucuba filicauda. Southern China. Shrub to 4 m tall.
- Aucuba himalaica. Eastern Himalaya, southern China, northern Myanmar. Small tree to 8-10 m tall.
- Aucuba japonica. Southern Japan, southern Korea, Taiwan, southeast China (Zhejiang). Shrub to 4 m tall.
- Aucuba obcordata. Southern China. Shrub to 4 m tall.
- Aucuba robusta. Southern China (Guangxi). Shrub.
- Alice M. Coats, Garden Shrubs and Their Histories (1964) 1992, s.v. "Aucuba".
- "With characteristic perversity, we deny the name of laurel to the only member of that genus that we cultivate—Laurus nobilis—which we call the Bay, and bestow it on a number of totally unconnected shrubs", observes Alice M. Coats.