Used mostly for decorative purposes, the Tetrapanax papyrifer is primarily a paper plant that was already being used by the Chinese in the second century BC. It thrives in rich soil and even has a tendency to become invasive if it is not monitored properly.
Tetrapanax is from Greek tetra, meaning 4 (in reference to its flower’s 4 stamens) and Latin word Panax (borrowed from Greek panakeia: which cures everything). Papyrifer means “which produces paper” (Latin).
Description and flowering period
It is a shrub reaching up to 6 meters in height and spreading up to 3 meters wide. The trunk is rather slender and the foliage is either persistent or deciduous depending on winter temperatures. The palmed leaves can reach over a meter in diameter. They have between 5 and 11 lobes, are deeply veined, bright green with a lighter underside and are covered in short reddish hairs when young. The flowers are borne on long panicles (60 to 100cm) which look like small creamy-white bobbles each containing many minuscule flowers with 4 or 5 stamens. The fruits are small black drupes (fleshy fruit containing a single pit).
It requires a humus-rich, fresh yet well drained soil in full sun or part-shade. It tolerates sea-sprays as well as short spells of frosts down to – 6°c (although the leaves are already affected at – 4°c).
- Craftsmanship: The white pith from the stem is cut into extremely thin slices and pressed to manufacture rice-paper. It has been used to that end as early as the second century BC.
The genus Tetrapanax only has one species. There are, however many horticultural varieties (or cultivars), such as ‘Variegata’ with leaves variegated with creamy-white and greyish-green, or ‘Steroidal Giant’ which is over 7 meters high and has leaves over 1.2 meter long.
Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN