Tetranax papyrifer at OpdeHaar gardens

Tetrapanax papyrifer Steroidal Giant
Tetrapanax papyrifer Steroidal Giant

On this page about Tetrapanax information on and photos of:

Tetrapanax name and family

Tetrapanax is a member of the family Araliaceae along with Fatsia, Aralia, Hedera, Schefflera and Oplopanax. The taxonomy in the group remains labile and Tetrapanax papyrifer was previously called “Fatsia Papyrifera”. One still rarely comes across mixed nomenclature such as Tetrapanax papyfera and even variants such as papyriferum or papyriferus. Tony Avent of Plants Delight Nursery in USA has given an insight into the origins of giants such as “Steroidal Giant”. He also has good photographs of both Tetrapanax papyrifer and “Steroidal Giant” for comparison in his catalogue. (Use the search function on his site or click here.)

Tetrapanax papyrifer “Steroidal Giant”

My “Steroidal Giant” was planted out in a suitably moist and sheltered spot in full sun in the tropical border early in 2006. It sat and didn’t do anything really spectacular right through until August, which was one of the wettest on record in the Netherlands. This prompted the steroids to kick in and it developed a thick stem about 1m high by the time it dropped its leaves in early November. In 2007 it proceeded to dwarf a Gunnera manicata and threatened to mask out Musa sikkimensis with leaves that could truly be described as awesome! In fact, spectacularly large Sauromatum nubicum plants almost looked like incidental decoration in its shade. The lesson is obviously that it needs adequate space.  4mwould have been just enough in my case.
Finally in the spring of 2008 I decided to shift the thing. I took out the trunk with what I assumed was a very generous portion of root. It never even made an attempt to make growth but, like Monty Python’s Norwegian blue parrot, the bare stem stood bravely erect until I finally dug the corpse out. Meanwhile, curiously familiar leaves eventually developed into small tetrapanaxes over several square meters of our exotics border. Interestingly, prior to this there hadn’t been a sign of any suckering from the roots. Throughout 2008, I have been potting up these plants and, as I write (November 2008), they are growing happily in the greenhouse. 


The Tetrapanax formed rather thick roots which travelled close to the surface for up to several metres. Once I severed these from the parent plant, they sent up suckers. Removing these when very small revealed that the individual plants had still to develop their own root system and were just drawing nourishment from the original old root. Subsequent development of these plants was much slower than that of plants which were left a week or two longer and were obviously developing their own root system.
Moreover, the length of old root taken together with the sucker seemed to have little if any relationship to how well the plant subsequently developed. I am not a tetrapanax nursery so I set about carefully removing as many of the original roots as possible. Out of curiosity, I put 0.5m lengths of these into a nursery bed to see how readily these root cuttings produced plants. Some weeks later, all the roots had rotted without any signs of further plant development. I leave it to you to draw conclusions. So much for propagation tips – because, sooner or later, you will get suckers!

Availability of Tetrapanax

Several years after the giant tetrapanax variants burst onto the  European plant scene and after my story, it isn’t surprising to find that they are now fairly easy to get hold of. Reports over the internet confirm that their suckering nature can indeed be a problem.
Therefore the question arises as to how well the giant tetrapanax variants will develop if confined by some root restricting device such as the foil sold to limit the spread of some bamboos. I suppose a sort of alternative would be to grow the plant as a specimen in its own bed in a lawn. Suckers would then presumably be mown off. Simply putting Tetrapanax into a mixed border seems to be tempting fate a bit too much from what I have seen.  My experience taught me that the plant certainly thrives on moisture and food. The roots had made straight for the manure around the Gunnera and the banana (Musa sikkimensis). 

A spectacular plant

Steroidal Giant” (and presumably “Rex“) are undoubtedly spectacular plants when grown well as the photographs illustrate. I was struck by the way some suckers had developed quite well in very deep shade behind other plants. The literature does state that planting can be done in half-shade. Furthermore my last observation prompts me to ask just how tolerant of shade the Tetrapanax is. This is certainly something I will be putting to the test in our woodland in 2009. In general, an increase in the shade tends to enhance leaf size so if this holds for Tetrapanax, then who knows what will happen.

Typhonium (sauromatum) nubicum
Typhonium (Sauromatum) nubicum “Voodoolelie” 
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