Tetrapanax papyrifer first came to the attention to western science during the 1920's, but not as a plant. It arrived instead as 'rice-paper,' upon which were painted luminous watercolour scenes of everyday life in China. Rice-paper soon came to the attention of botanists who recognised that it was neither made of rice, nor was it the typical paper imported at the time from China. However in 1830, Dr. John Livingstone (brother of the famous African Explorer Dr. David Livingstone) acquired a piece of the stem, and gave it to William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865), then Regius Professor of
Botany at Glasgow University, for identification.

Hooker then contacted Thomas Hardwicke (1756–1835), the eminent naturalist of India, for advice in identifying the plant, who suggested the sola plant - Aeschynomene paludosa. The confusion between the rice-paper plant and the sola plant was perpetuated in subsequent literature, and it was not until 1852, while Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, that Hooker was able to correctly identify the rice-paper plant as Tetrapanax papyrifer.

Large leaved specimen
How to grow Tetrapanax papyrifera
Native to Taiwan, Tetrapanax papyrifer is an evergreen shrub and, the sole species within the genus. However it the naturally occurring 'Rex' variety, originally collected from the Shei-Pa area of the Central Mountains, that is now commonly found under cultivation.

Under favourable conditions Tetrapanax papyrifer 'Rex' will form a thicket of stems to 3 metres wide or more. The tall upright stems can reach 2 metres in height. It is noted for its impressive, palmately-lobed leaves which can grow between 60-120cm across. New growth and the under-sides of the leaves are covered with a beige indumentum (woolly hairs).

Small creamy-white flowers appear from October to September in globose clusters. Once pollinated these are followed by tiny black fruits

Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ will be happy positioned in full sun to part shade in a rich, free-draining soil. Although evergreen in its native habitat, in cooler, temperate regions it is considered deciduous. It will however be cut back in hard winters, but established plants will re-shoot from the ground level. Consider protecting with horticultural fleece to reduce cold damage.

Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex' can produce suckers so avoid planting in sensitive areas. Alternatively grow in large containers.

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