There is something about plants with huge tropical leaves, first of all I fell in love with Musa basjoo the hardy Japanese banana, and tun discovered Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ and what an incredible plant it is.
Just look at those huge jungle like leaves! Who could resist the charms of this fabulous shrub. If your garden is sheltered then it can be overwintered and might even spread and thrive as this one has at Yewbarrow Garden in Grange over Sands.
I have however struggled to know how to categorise this huge brute of a plant, in a very mild winter it will keep its leaves if it is in a very favourable position, in a harder winter it will drop its leaves, and in the type of winter we experience at Plant Enthusiast Towers in East Yorkshire it will dies back to the ground and grow as a perennial, so perennial it is. Really it is a semi hardy woody tropical.
Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ originates from the Shei-Pa area of Taiwan, an area which is mountainous and in which this huge monster of a plant can thrive. The leaves are huge, growing in the case of ‘Rex’ to well over a meter in width, in the even more vigorous ‘Steroidal Giant’ the leaves can reach an even greater size. (Whilst some sources argue that ‘Steroidal Giant’ is identical to ‘Rex’ they look different to me in cultivation and so I regard them as different cultivars. This is a plant of some size and presence and whose leaves can dwarf those of Gunnera manicata!
An intriguing characteristic of the new growth is covering of hairs or indumentum.
There are wonderful stories of the early plant hunters using the indumentum on Rhododendrons to create a rough hand rolled wick for Yak fat candles or lamps.
Once Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ has got its toes into a moisture retentive (yet well drained( soil it is capable of impressive spurts of growth. They can easily achieve 2m in a kind growing season, however in all but the most favourable positions some form of winter protection will be required to prevent it dieting back to the ground. Whilst they can in my experience tolerate partial shade these plants love the sun, and generally the warmer part of the garden in the summer will also be warmer over the winter.
Here are some shots of young leaves which we took at Abbotsbury Tropical Gardens.