Tetrapanax papyrifer

A Rice Paper Plant by Any Other Name...

syns. Aralia papyrifera, T. papyriferum, T. papyriferus

Tetrapanax papyrifer has several synonyms: T. papyriferum, T. papyriferus, and Aralia papyrifera. These are all the same tree--the rice paper plant.  Let's see if we can sort this out.

Rice paper tree leaves are huge! 

Look at the red castor bean leaves to its right to get a sense of the scale.

If you were caught in the rain with one of these growing nearby, you could use one of its leaves as an umbrella.


Aralia because it is a member of the Araliaceae family.  Hmm, makes sense. 

Now let's break down Tetrapanax

Tetra is the Greek word for the number four.  The rice paper plant's blossoms have just four stamens.  Panax because it is closely related to that genus.

The species names: papyrifer, papyrifera, papyrifrus, papyriferum, etc. refer to the rice paper tree's use.

Here's another image of the same garden. 

T. papyriferus is growing in the shade of the Mediterranean fan palm on the left.

In its native China, the white core of the trunk and stems is harvested, sliced into thin strips, and pressed into a pricy stationary called rice paper. 

The Chinese have been making paper from the pith of this plant and another, Broussonetia papyrifera, since 123 B.C.

Tertapanax papyrifer leaves cast light shade over outdoor seating.

When the plant is small, its lobed leaves are covered in a flocking-like substance called tomentum and look as if they are made of felt.  The heavily veined mature leaves closely resemble those of Fatsia japonica, only they are larger and have more lobes.

In fact, another of its many synonyms is...?

You guessed it--Fatsia papyrifera!

The two plants are related and enjoy the same growing conditions.  Because they are so similar in appearance, they can be used in the same ways.

Warning:

The white tomentum on the young leaves and trunks may irritate your skin or eyes if it comes into contact with them.

The dramatic, palmate leaves grow on long stalks which droop with age.  The foliage retains its juvenile felt only on the undersides.  The top surface of mature leaves is a smooth sage green.

During the summer months, the plant will produce clusters of white flowers on panicles up to 3' long.

In the wild, the rice paper plant can grow to 30'.  Cultivated plants seldom reach this stature.  Ten to twenty feet of  top growth is what you should expect one of these plants to put on in your back garden.

The trunks or stems are long and spindly.  They also tend to sucker and form clumps.  If you don't want these suckers, avoid digging too close to the rice paper tree's roots as root disturbance triggers suckering.


Tetrapanax papyrifer Culture

Site plants where they will be shaded from the mid-day sun which is too strong for them.  Provide consistent moisture and wind protection.

Managing this fast growing tree is easy.  Cut stems that have grown too tall for your taste to the ground in late summer.  In the spring, the clump will send up new stems to replace the ones you removed.

Propagation:  Plant seed or dig up and move suckers in the spring.  The seeds are easy to handle, sprout readily, and grow quickly into tall plants.

Hardiness:  The rice paper plant will tolerate light frosts.  In frost-free areas it is evergreen.  A hard freeze will kill the top growth, but the plant will spring back from the roots as long as the ground does not freeze.  Recommended for USDA zones 8 (with protection)-11.



Other Plants with Bold Leaves:

Split Leaf Philodendron

Elephant Ears

The Traveler's Palm

Banana Plants

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