Plant Profile: Cyperus Papyrus


Ever year I make a point of finding a couple of interesting plants, shrubs, or trees to incorporate into my garden. I look forward to shopping around and choosing the plant, and I also look froward to the following gardening season and seeing how my new baby is establishing itself in its new environment.  By choosing just a few plants, I have time to study up on the history and care for each plant, making me a more knowledgable gardener in the long run. Cyperus Papyrus is one that I took home this spring.

Cyperus Papyrus is a tender, herbaceous perennial native to Africa.  It belongs to a species of aquatic flowering plants that belong to the Cyperaceae family. Cyperaceae are a family of flowering plants known as sedges, which resemble grasses or rushes.  Papyrus forms triangular green stalks of clump-forming, reed-like swamp vegetation, topped with bursts of hair-like umbrellas that can reach 6'-8' tall (there is a dwarf variety, Cyperus Profiler, that only reaches 12-24").  

The history of the papyrus plant can be traced back to ancient Egyptian culture.  It was used to make food and medicine, but most notably, paper. Its huge stems were also used to make reed boats. Nowadays, it's mostly cultivated as an ornamental plant and is widely used in landscaping.

Papyrus thrives in wet areas similar to its native marsh environment, making it ideal for water gardens or ponds. This plant does not like to dry out and can even be planted in a pot submerged in water (it can be invasive when grown in water — a container will also prevent it from taking over). That being said, as long as the soil remains sufficiently moist, it will do well in gardening soil and containers planted in full to part sun.  It makes for an unusual tropical accent and can even be used as a cut flower for arrangements. 

While papyrus is a perennial, good for zones 9-11, it can tolerate zone 8 with proper care.  Grown outside of those areas, it needs to be treated like an annual or half-hardy perennial. It is sensitive to cold temperatures and frost, but can be brought indoors and grown easily in the winter, even by the novice gardener.

(Images: 1, Container Gardening with Kat G, Cubits.org; 2, Casa e jardim; 3, Hortus 2.)

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