Beautifully executed paintings of flowers and insects upon a delicate semi-transparent material, and the material itself, were brought from China in the early days of commerce with that country; for the want of a better name it was called rice paper, but the microscope showed that rice did not enter into its composition, and that it was some kind of pith. Various plants, among others the breadfruit, were suggested as the source of this material, but it was not until 1852 that its history was made out; in that year Sir William Hooker in the "Journal of Botany" gave an account of the rice paper plant, which he referred to the genus aralia and called A. papyrifera. In a revision of aralia and related plants Decaisne and Plan-chon in 1854, for botanical reasons, separated this from aralia, and made a new genus, Fatsia; and though the plant will be found in most current botanical and horticultural works as aralia papyrifera, its proper botanical name is Fatsia papyrifera. The tree is a native of Formosa, rarely growing more than 20 ft. high, and branching above; the young stems, leaves, and inflorescence are covered with a copious down of stellate hairs; the leaves, on long petioles, are often a foot across, round-heart-shaped, and five- to seven-lobed. The flowers are small and greenish, and are produced in pendulous panicles, 1 to 3 ft. long at the end of the branches.
The plant has such ample leaves and so stately an aspect that it is a favorite in subtropical planting; a single young and vigorous specimen as a centre to a bed of low-growing plants produces a fine effect. It must be kept in a greenhouse or dry cellar during winter, though if left out the roots would no doubt prove hardy, as the writer had numerous young plants come up in the spring from fragments of the roots left in the soil on taking up a large plant the previous autumn. The vigorous stems have a pith which is an inch and a half in diameter and of a snowy whiteness; after the woody exterior is removed, the Chinese cut the pith into sheets, by paring with a sharp knife from the circumference toward the centre, unrolling it, as it were, and then flattening it out and pressing it under weights until dry, when it remains as a flat sheet. It is imported in sheets a few inches square, and in dry weather it is exceedingly fragile. It is used solely for fancy ornamental work; some of the pith is exported in the stem for artificial flower makers, who find in its tissue a material which more closely than any other imitates the petals of the most delicate flowers.
Rice Paper Tree (Fatsia papyrifera).