Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tetrapanax Papyrifer 'Steroidal Giant"

Tetrapanax papyrifer 'Steroidal Giant' in my garden now

New leaf of Tetrapanax 'Steroidal Giant"

Stem of Tetrapanx 'Steroidal Giant' showing indumentum
     I have been growing Tetrapanax in my garden for almost 20 years.  I first heard about it from reading the books of Myles Challis who was the writer who did more than any one else to spark the trend for growing tropical looking plants in temperate gardens.  At that time, almost none of the plants he wrote about and almost none of the plants we now commonly use to achieve the tropical look were available in nurseries here.  Furthermore,  in those days, plants were not generally sold on the internet, so finding many of these plants was a difficult chore.  One source for tropical looking plants that I found was a nursery called Louisiana Nursery, located, of course, in Louisiana.  They had a thick catalog with all sorts of mouth watering goodies, including Tetrapanax, so I ordered one from them.   It arrived sometime in the fall or winter and to get to the Pacific Northwest from Louisiana it had had to travel through parts of the country that were experiencing freezing temperatures.  So when it arrived, the root ball was partially frozen.  I planted it anyway, and lo and behold! it survived and thrived for many years. 
     That first tetrapanax I had differed from 'Steroidal Giant', the one in the picture, in that the leaves did not have the sharp lobes that those of 'Steroidal Giant' have.  Otherwise its size and growth habits were similar.
      I later got another unnamed clone of tetrapanax from Heronswood. This one also did not have the sharp lobes that 'Steroidal Giant' has, although its leaf shape was not exactly the same as the Louisiana nursery clone. It, too, had the same size and growth habit as 'Steroidal Giant'. 
     Probably 10 years ago, Sean Hogan of Cistus Nursery introduced me to a clone of tetrapanax he called 'Steroidal Giant".  This was a plant he had gotten from someone in California who had grown it in a pot for many years.  When it was liberated from the pot, it became this gigantic plant, hence the name 'Steroidal Giant'.  'Steroidal Giant' is supposed to be bigger and more vigorous than other tetrapanaxes and it may well be, but all the tetrapnaxes I have grown have been big and vigorous.  I do like 'Steroidal Giant' the best, however, because its leaf shape and coloring seem crisper and sharper than other tetrapanaxes.   Also, the indumentum, or brownish fur like stuff on the stems, seems more pronounced and colorful in 'Steroidal Giant'.  This, however, may not necessarily be a good thing since this indumentum can irritate the lungs of some people.  Dan Hinkley told me he no longer grows tetrapanax because of this.
     I have grown tetrapanax in many parts of my garden.  It does well in the shade, particularly if the soil is moist.  It will also grow in full sun in our climate.  I have found that, given enough time and moisture, tetrapanax 'Steroidal Giant' will colonize vast quantities of land.  Right now the stand in the pictures above is growing where I have a septic drainfield and it clearly likes that spot.  It actually put itself there--originally it was planted about 20 feet away, but it sent out runners and discovered the promised land!  I even have tetrapanax coming up in the lawn.
      Every once in a while all the tetrapanaxes in the garden will be frozen to the ground in a cold winter.  Never fear--they will arise from the ground, making many new stems in the process.  When new baby tetrapanaxes come up from runners from the mother plant, and you want to dig them up to give to a friend, wait until they develop a woody stem. Otherwise, they probably will not survive.  Tetrapanax can also be propagated from root cuttings which I have done.  The main precautions to take if you do this are to keep the plants warm and moist, and to protect them from slugs.


  1. While Plant Lust still lists Cistus as a source for this plant, their catalog has narry a peep.

    I doubt it will be invasive here in the PNW - at least no more so than many sumacs.

  2. I need one of these for my yard!! Do you have any idea where I could purchase on in the Seattle area?