I have admired the Tetrapanax papyrifer plants in Norwich’s Bishop’s Garden for several years and I bought one in the summer of 2011. I dug it up this spring when we moved house and replanted it in our new garden, in a sunny but fairly sheltered border. It has done well here and it put on lots of new leaves this summer.
Then in September I noticed it was developing flower buds, something I hadn’t seen before. Now, after weeks of frost-free and mostly balmy autumn weather, it is in full flower and looks lovely. The flowers have a noticeable scent of honey, rather like ivy. (Both plants are in the family Araliaceae.) Yesterday there were a dozen Honeybees on the flowers and today they were joined by a couple of drowsy Bombus terrestris bumblebees.
Tetrapanax payrifer is a native of China and Taiwan. It is known as the Rice-paper plant because its pith can be used to make rice-paper. The Plants for a Future website suggests that the root may be edible and the plant has several medicinal uses too. But I’m happy to grow the plant for its beauty and stature alone.
Tetrapanax can grow to 5 metres high in ideal conditions but it is only hardy to about -5 degrees Celsius and the plant is usually damaged in the winter in the UK. But the plant seems to grow back again in the spring – mine loses most of its leaves and then grows from the top of the stem, so it is developing a tree-like trunk. At Great Dixter, in the tropical garden, they cut down their Tetrapanax plants to the base every year, so they regrow with no bare twigs. Damaging the roots can also alter the growth habit, as the plants respond by sending up new shoots from the base.
Update June 2016
R.I.P. Tetrapanax, 2011 – 2016. When spring arrived this year our Tetrapanax failed to come back to life. Last autumn it lost its leaves, as usual, but then I think the unseasonably warm weather in December 2015 made it start to grow again. The start of the new growth coincided with the start of winter and death ensued. I will have to make do with the specimens in the Bishop’s Garden.
The Tetrapanax is dead – long live the Tetrapanax
2nd January 2017 – I spoke too soon. The original plant died but two offspring grew from the roots, several feet away from the parent plant. This plant is a survivor!