NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

A Gardening Journal

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Ricepaper Plant

tetrapanax-papyrifer-stems-031613-320

 

My 18th Century house still has a dirt basement floor. The basement is dark and damp. But for a certain kind of plant, those conditions aren't obstacles to action.

 

Look at these two stems that have emerged from the soil. With so little light, there's almost no chance for chlorophyll to form, let alone function, so they are white. These sprouts, then, are "powered" by the mother plant, which grows in the garden alongside the house. What plant is so prolific in its suckering that it could—if only it had a brain—be thinking, "Say, what if I grow down into the ground a couple of yards, and then head underneath this house toward Cape Cod"?

tetrapanax-papyrifer-stems-031613-640

 

My 18th Century house still has a dirt basement floor. The basement is dark and damp; it's only lighted when I go downstairs to check on the many, many dormant plants that overwinter well there. But for a certain kind of plant, those conditions aren't obstacles to action.

 

Look at these two stems that have emerged from the soil. With so little light, there's almost no chance for chlorophyll to form, let alone function, so they are white. These sprouts, then, are "powered" by the mother plant, which grows in the garden alongside the house. What plant is so prolific in its suckering that it could—if only it had a brain—be thinking, "Say, what if I grow down into the ground a couple of yards, and then head underneath this house toward Cape Cod"?

 

This plant takes Extreme Running to Olympic levels. The crazy vigor of its runners, plus the points of the baby leaf at the tip of its stem, confirm that this is ricepaper plant,Tetrapanax papyrifera.

 

tetrapanax-papyrifer-foliage-031613-640

 

This hyper-stoloniferous subtropical tree thrives as a die-back perennial here in New England. It does not choose where its stolons will grow; it's a plant, not a predator. As long as the soil can be penetrated and the moisture seems sufficient, the stolons will extend anywhere. Or rather, everywhere. What's remarkable is how well the plant can supply energy to all of them, which might not emerge to sprout their own leaves until they've tunneled many feet from the mother ship. The record in my garden is about twenty feet.

 

Many of the stolons are on wild goose chases. The twenty-footer grew, yard after yard, underneath the diagonal width of my stone terrace; if the terrace had abutted the house instead of garden bed, all that growth wouldn't have yielded access to sun on the far side.

 

These basement stolons aren't ever going to receive enough light to mature, either. 

 

With a plant as energetic as Tetrapanax papyrifer—relentless is the word many would use—such losses of some of the infantry are just the cost of battle. Enough spies will tunnel through to full sun and open soil to keep the colony spreading ever-outward.

 

Unless, of course, the gardener, who is equally relentless, yanks up out-of-bounds sprouts as soon as they appear. They pull easily. Sure, there will soon be more, but it's part of the exercise of gardening, even the partnership of it. I pull sprouts, the Tetrapanax forms new ones. We all have our roles to play.

 

Here's how to grow ricepaper plant, and pictures of why anyone would grow this terror: Its unique, enormous, astounding foliage.

 

Here's a look at the fuzzy young leaves of ricepaper plant, surprised by the unexpected arrival of Winter.

 
 
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