More Information About Tetrapanax
Tetrapanax is a monophyletic (single species) genus in the Araliaceae family which makes it a cousin of aralia, fatsia, ivy, schefflera, and ginseng. The sole species, Tetrapanax papyrifera, is a large shrub in warm parts of the world (Zone 9) and a dieback perennial at the northern edge of its hardiness range.
For over 1700 years, the people of East Asia have used the brilliant-white, fibrous pith inside the tetrapanax stems to make paper and this paper (along with any paper made from the fibers of rice, hemp, bamboo, or mulberry) is called rice paper. This paper is naturally strong, even when wet and is used not only for writing, but also for Asian watercolor paintings, bandages, and is dyed and folded into artifical flowers.
Tetrapanax is striking as an ornamental plant because of the large palmate leaves that are bigger than a dinner plate. These leaves provide a coarse, tropical texture to the garden, much like an elephant ear or fatsia. Tetrapanax individual flowers are small but are attractively clustered in large numbers on huge, terminal, forked, astilbe-like structures.
In the wild, Tetrapanax papyrifera grows on the edges of forests on the coast of southern China and Taiwan. In the garden, Tetrapanax prefers light shade, regular water, and a sheltered site to protect the large leaves from wind. Tetrapanax leaves are covered with short, fine, hairs that make the leaves somewhat soft to the touch but can irritate people with sensitive skin. Tetrapanax plants sucker profusely, so you will always have plenty to share. When you are ready to buy tetrapanax for your perennial garden, check out our online list of tetrapanax for sale.