Marginals: Tetrapanax papyrifer

by Andrew Keys on April 8, 2010

When I was in the first grade, whenever I stood outside waiting to be picked up from school, I watched a rice paper plant at a house across the street grow. At first, in spring, it was barely there, but by summer it was something big. I wasn’t sure I liked it, but it wasn’t something you saw very much, so it had my 6-year-old attention.

Fast-forward 20 years or so, and I read in Fine Gardening that rice paper plant, Tetrapanax papyrifer, is hardy to Zone 6 as a dieback plant. Hello, please? I added it to The List.

Fast-forward a little more, not too much, just a few months to October ’09, and I’m visiting my family in Mississippi. Some family friends have Tetrapanax planted in their garden! They’d gotten it as a passalong, and have it planted in the ground in a tub so it doesn’t run all over the place, a fact that makes me think the plant of my childhood near the school wasn’t happy – it was never so enthusiastic.

To wrap up this little time travel bonanza, I visited my sister on the same trip and what did I find? Rice paper plants, growing in her backyard. She said I could take a few, and when we went to dig them up we realized a virtual FOREST of Tetrapanax was growing along a drainage ditch behind her fence. We’re talking 12 foot tall rice paper plants.

The upshot of this story is that I mailed five Tetrapanax roots home to myself. Four rested in forced dormancy for the winter in the attic, and I planted them out last week, but one I planted in the ground in the fall, just to test their mettle. In a few short weeks, we’ll know their fate! I know they won’t reach 12 feet for me here in Zone 6, and I doubt they’ll make a rice paper jungle in my backyard either, but I’ll be interested to find that out too.

Tetrapanax is a member of Araliaceae, the aralia family, along with some of my other favorite ornamental plants of the genus Aralia (we’ll get to those), as well as well known Fatsia, English ivy (Hedera helix) and ginseng (Panax).

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