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Tetrapanex papyrifer

Do you have a plant or plants that you really find annoying or that you just purely don't like?  I would guess that the question popped up a memory of some long-ago plant that you let die unceremoniously or that you, again long ago, put out of your (not its) misery.  For me the plant is still around, and it's not even in my garden.  It's in my parents'.  That tree/shrub is Tetrapanax papyrifer also known as Rice Paper Tree or Rice Paper Plant. 

photos by Michelle Davis

It is commonly found in Asian-style gardens as an evergreen background.  It's native to Taiwan.  You may recognize it by the huge leaves described as palmasect, having up to a dozen or more lobes.  The gray-green leaves easily reach 15 inches across, are hairy on the underside and have long, hairy petioles.  Propagation is by division, root cutting or seed.  They grow well in sun or partial shade and in clay, sand or loam.  They are also very fast growers.  In California's Central and Sacramento Valley, a good hard freeze will take these plants/trees down to the ground, but they resiliently resurrect come spring.

My dad's trees are planted in the ground between his porch and a 10-foot-wide patio in a narrow strip that gets full sun.  They have been there for the 50 years my parents have lived in this house. His trees are about 8 feet tall.  They can get to 12 feet tall and about 8 feet wide.  Most every day my dad searches around his back lawn and flicks out the sprouts that have popped up from his two trees.  The 10-foot buffer isn't enough to keep them contained.  He also picks up the dead leaves and carries them out to his greentoter.  It is at least exercise.

In the fall the trees send up panicles up to 3 feet long that are also hairy.  They produce creamy-white flowers that attract pollinators, mainly bees.  They also produce marble-sized black drupes.  My dad doesn't want bees near the kitchen entrance, so he gets on a ladder and cuts the shoots off before they bloom.  And there is my major beef with this plant.  I caught my dad two steps up on his ladder cutting off dead leaves and the shoots.  He had just a couple left and a big pile on the ground around the ladder.  I climbed the ladder and cut off the rest for him, relocated his toter next to the pile on the ground and quickly scooped up the piles in my arms and tossed them in the can.  And then, I immediately began sneezing too many times to count in a row and forcefully and incessantly coughing and itching.  What I didn't know until then was that just handling the plant or being near its pollen can cause an allergic reaction and skin irritation. 

I read online how people love this plant/tree for its interesting plant leaf architecture. To control unwanted seedlings, they will plant it in a large container and put it at the back of the plant border.  I suspect this plant will be around in my parents' garden long after they have moved on from this life and whether the new homeowners want it or not.

Posted on Tuesday, December 6, 2022 at 12:00 AM

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