Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ (Rice paper plant), also known under the common names, Tetrapanax payrifera ‘Steroidal Giant’, Tetrapanax payrifera ‘Rex’, giant rice-paper plant originates from Taiwan, and certainly has a 'Jurassic Park' feel about it. With its big deeply lobed leaves these can reach sizes of up to 1.5 metre in diameter on petioles of 70 - 80 cm long. They grow very fast and prefer partial shade, and eventually reach heights of 2 to 3 metres.
This spectacular plant is moderately hardy with its apical growth surviving temperatures of approx -10c, but it is root hardy to lower temperatures around -15, so if you lose a main plant it is likely to grow up root suckers. Over subsequent years Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ will form a mass of roots which can throw up plants in other areas around the main plant, making a prehestoric looking jungle effect and is a great addition to any exotic subtropical looking garden.
Like any large leaf plant with massive leaves, Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ requires lots of water, so frequent watering and a rich moisture-retentive soil is essential. They also grow best in some shade, dappled-shade under trees is ideal.
The whole plant except its woody trunk and the tops of the leaves is covered in a powdery beige powder, known as indumentum. The stems and bottom of the leaves are covered with indumentum which can be a lung irritant to some people. Never look up while pruning as the indumentum will fall into your eyes, nose, throat and can be an irritant and in some cases can be painful, so caution is advised. In respect to this I would think carefully about where the plant is to be located in the garden.
In late Autumn the leaves fall off, leaving only the stems. In spring, new leaves will be formed again at the apex's. Tetrapanax creates underground runners through rhizomes that can rise a few metres further. However, these can be easily cut off, which means that a root barrier is not necessary. The main advise about planting out is to provide a large sufficient space for Tetrapanax, which can eventually occupy an area of up to 6m²!
Native to Taiwan, it’s a hardy plant and is suitable for cultivation across the UK. In milder regions it’s almost evergreen but further north it will shed its leaves in autumn. In the far north it may be necessary to offer winter protection. Remove faded leaves as and when they appear tatty, and prune back to size in autumn, if necessary.There’s usually no need to prune but you can cut back to size in late-winter if desired.
Tetrapanax was used in China for the production of rice paper. In Europe however it is an ideal plant for the exotic garden. It is hardy and can grow well in almost every place. To show off the big striking leaves, it is best planted as a solitary. The plant is non-toxic, which makes it safe for children to play nearby though, intensive manipulation of the plant may release indumentum which can irritate the airways as you breathe the yellowish powder, as described above.
Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ is a great is a must for any exotic looking garden.