February 01, 2005

Tetrapanax Papyrifera Chinese Rice Paper Plant

For a tropical looking plant that can handle the Texas heat this one is a must. The Rice Paper Plant is appropriately named. Chinese people since antiquity have known the use of rice paper for writing and printing. Historians believe that rice paper was invented during the Han Dynasty around 105 A.D. The pith (the soft spongy central tissue in stems) supplies the substance that is turned into rice paper. To form rice paper you take young stems cut from the mother plant and soaked in water. When the pith has softened enough it is then forced out of the stem to form 10-14 inch pieces. It is then dried and rolled over a block, flattened, and then trimmed to form scroll sheets 4 to 8 feet long. However, I believe I would drive or walk down to OfficeDepot or Wal-Mart before I would venture into making my own paper.

The book on this plant is zone 7-10, 60”to 10’ in height, sun to light shade. Be it known that this plant is a traveler and I can certainly understand why people made things out of it during antiquity. They HAD to; it was coming up all over the place! Just take a visit to the Japanese Garden at the Ft.Worth Botanical Gardens and see for yourself how this plant has a mind of its own. Once you get this plant through its first year, you will have it forever (not unless you start making paper)

The brownish frosted green leaves emerge in early spring and start to grow, into its larger fuzzy, umbrella like, mature leaf. The leaf is huge and can measurer as much as 24-36 inches wide. The plant can grow up to 20ft tall, but that is usually in Houston or farther south. In Arlington the winter will knock it down to the ground almost every year. My mother has grown this plant for 10 years and still has it in her yard today. If there is a problem with this plant it is the dried dead leaves. I have ground up the leaves before and the fuzzy stuff on the leaves tends to fly all over the place and will get into your throat. Trust me, you cannot drink enough water.

The flower heads form in the late fall and are usually too late for the Arlington, TX area. The flower heads are creamy white, fluffy balls held up high in large loose panicles. If there is enough time, black seeds will form and can be used to grow new plants or used for craft ideas. Usually the winter will not wait for this blessed event to happen.
There is a new form of this plant out there somewhere. It is called Tetrapanax papyrifera ‘Variegata’. Yes, you are right, it is a variegated form of the standard rice paper plant. It has green leaves with cream to white flowing through the leaves. I am looking for this plant if you can find it. I will have some of the regular Rice Paper Plant at the AOGC plant sale in June.
Happy Organic Gardening!

Posted by cheryn at February 1, 2005 10:02 PM