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Products > Tetrapanax papyrifer
Tetrapanax papyrifer - Rice Paper Plant
Image of Tetrapanax papyrifer
[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Shrub
Family: Araliaceae (Ginsengs)
Origin: Taiwan (Asia)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Creamy White
Bloomtime: Winter
Synonyms: [T. papyriferus, Fatsia papyrifera, Aralia]
Height: 10-16 feet
Width: 6-8 feet
Exposure: Sun or Shade
Seaside: Yes
Irrigation (H2O Info): Medium Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 15-20 F
Tetrapanax papyrifer (Rice Paper Plant) - A tall evergreen tropical looking fast growing tree-like shrub with a usually unbranched rough barked trunk, often leaning slightly, that grows 10-15 feet tall from a spreading rhizomatous root system. The large deeply lobed palmate leaves cluster at the top of the stems on 2 foot long fuzzy petioles and are a gray-green color, smooth above with the underside covered with white, fine hairs. It is late fall and early winter blooming with creamy small white flowers in 1 inch round ball-like clusters held in large loose panicles to 3 feet long.

Plant in sun or shade in nearly any soil and water occasionally to regularly. Hardy at least to 18 F and in colder climates it can be frozen to the ground and sucker back up to regenerate rapidly. It is an evergreen plant in gardens in USDA Zone 8 and above and a "dieback perennial" in colder locations. Position where it gets some shelter from wind that can tear its foliage but otherwise it is tolerant of near seashore location and sandy soil so is useful in gardens near the ocean. It is also not an appealing plant to deer or rabbits. It can travel around the garden, often popping up many feet from the existing main plant but is not terribly pesty and it easy to remove when small and care should be taken when this is done as the hairs can be a mild irritant to eyes or skin. It is sensitive to oak foot fungus, Armillaria mellea, but often new shoots pop up just as older plants succumb. This interesting plant lends a tropical flavor to the garden.

Tetrapanax papyrifer is monotypic (the only species in the genus) and comes from northern Taiwan and southern into central China, but has been widely cultivated in many parts of the world in tropical, subtropical and mediterranean climate regions. It was once included in the genus Fatsia as Fatsia papyrifera and Aralia as Aralia papyrifer and to this day is often listed as Tetrapanax papyriferus or with the species name spelled as "papyriferum", but "papyrifer" is now considered correct.

The name for the genus is from the Greek word 'tetra' meaning "four" and 'panax' a related Araliaceae genus name in reference to the flowers being in fours and its resemblance to genus Panax. The specific epithet, from a reference to the Egyptian Papyrus has to do with the pith of the center of the stem being used to make a substance commonly known as rice paper, but more properly is pith paper as it has nothing to do with rice and it is thought this common name likely came about because of a misunderstanding of early western explorers who were under the impression that the paper was made from rice straw. This material was also used to make artificial flowers.

This plant has long been in cultivation in Santa Barbara as evidenced by the Italian botanist Francesco Franceschi (AKA Emanuele Orazio Fenzi) listing it in his book Santa Barbara Exotic Flora that noted all of the plants he found in the area when he moved to Santa Barbara in 1895. His listing for this plant noted "Before closing this rather long list of decorative plants, special mention I will make of one of the very best among them and well known to all, the so-called rice-paper plant from Formosa. Aralia, or rather Fatsia papyrifera, which really appears to have found here the most congenial climate. It attains immense size in a very short time , and propagates freely from suckers. Not les ornamental than the broad, long petioled leaves are the huge panicles of minute white flowers, keeping well nearly all through the winter." We have grown this plant in our nursery since 1982 and our current plants are grown from seed from of the particularly large selection known as Tetrapanax papyrifer 'Steroidal Giant'

This information about Tetrapanax papyrifer displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.