Care Of Papyrus Plant – Growing Papyrus In The Garden

Care Of Papyrus Plant – Growing Papyrus In The Garden

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Papyrus was one of the most important plants in ancient civilized Egypt. Papyrus plants were used as paper, woven goods, food and fragrance. Papyrus grass is in a genus of over 600 different plants from around the world. The plant is considered a sedge and favors moist, warm environments. You can grow papyrus from seed or division. In most zones, papyrus is an annual or half-hardy perennial. This fast growing plant would be an excellent addition to a water garden or naturalized bog area.

What is Papyrus?

There are numerous names for papyrus grass. What is papyrus? It is a plant in the genus Cyperus, which has native to Madagascar. Umbrella plant or bulrush are other names for the plant. Papyrus plant is suitable for USDA plant hardiness zones 8 to 10 and requires a full sun location, in shallow water or riparian areas.

How to Grow Papyrus

The plant is called umbrella plant because it has a grass-like habit with sprays of foliage at the top of the stems. These sprays of foliage radiate out like the spokes in an umbrella. Papyrus can grow up to 10 feet (3 m.) tall from rhizomes. The stems are rigid and triangular and have white pith inside. The pith is the source of papyrus paper. Papyrus has no frost tolerance and should be moved indoors for the winter.

Papyrus grass is easy to grow. It prefers full sun but can also be raised in partial shade. Papyrus is usually planted by rhizomes in moist, fertile soil in pots and then submerged in an aquatic environment. It can also be planted directly into 3 feet (91 cm.) of muddy substrate to hold the heavy stems upright.

The plant needs to be kept moist, if not submerged. Papyrus seeds do not readily germinate and can take a month or more to sprout. Even in their native conditions, the plant does not easily spread by seed. Papyrus need little extra care to thrive provided it is kept moist. Mulching in zone 8 can help protect the tender roots but the foliage will likely die back in winter.

Pruning is not necessary except to remove errant or broken stems. You can give it a balanced fertilizer in spring to support the growth of the huge stems.

Papyrus grass has no damaging pests or diseases except rust fungus, which will discolor the stems and foliage. In the correct zones with light and moist conditions, care of papyrus plant is easy for even a novice gardener.

Propagation of Papyrus Plant

You can grow and share your papyrus plant through division in spring. Wait until the danger of frost has passed and un-pot or dig up the plant. Cut apart the papyrus rhizomes into groups of two or three. Re-pot the new plants and grow them as usual.

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How to Grow Papyrus

Papyrus may be best known as the plant used by ancient Egyptians to create the first true paper for their scrolls. but today this perennial sedge is a popular landscape plant, particularly for water gardening Although sometimes referred to as Nile grass, papyrus is actually an aquatic reed, or sedge. Papyrus plants are thought by some to be the iconic "rushes" where the infant Moses was hidden from the Egyptians in the biblical legend.

In appearance, this perennial ornamental grass combines drama, grace, and even humor. Growing in clumps, the papyrus plant extends a tall reedy stem as much as 8 feet tall, atop which perches a clump of umbrella-like grassy rays. The plant is undeniably elegant, but with eccentric touch that makes it look like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book. Papyrus is a dramatic plant that looks great in big, simple containers. It has the stature to be alone in a pot or it can add height and interest to a grouping of container gardens.

Papyrus is usually planted in the spring from nursery-grown plants. It grows quickly to achieve its adult stature, making it ideal to plant as an annual in regions where it is not hardy.

Botanical Name Cyperus papyrus
Common Name Papyrus, Egyptian papyrus, King Tut's grass
Plant Type Perennial reed, sedge
Mature Size 5–8 feet tall, 3–4 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Wet boggy soil
Soil pH 6.0 to 8.5 (acidic to alkaline)
Bloom Time Mid- to late summer
Flower Color Greenish-brown (flowers are insignificant)
Hardiness Zones 9–11 (USDA)
Native Area Africa
Toxicity Non-toxic

Cyperus Growing and Care Guide

Common Names: Bulrush, Papyrus, Papyrus Sedge, Flatsedge, Australian Bush Onion. Chufa, Galingale, Paper plant, Umbrella grass.
Life Cycle: Half hardy perennial. Annual.
Height: 18 to 48 inches (45 to 120 cm).
Native: All worldwide temperate and tropical zones.
Growing Region: Zones 8 to 10.
Flowers: Autumn.
Flower Details: Cream, green. Tiny. Clusters. Umbrella.
Foliage: Blades.
Sow Outside: Cover seed. Spring or the beginning of autumn. Spacing: Small species 12 inches (30 cm) Larger species 24 to 48 inches (60 to 120 cm).
Sow Inside: Germination time: 3 weeks to one month. Temperature 70 to 75°F (21 to 24°C). Seven or eight weeks in advance. Transplant outdoors a few weeks after the last frost (temperature should not fall below 45°F (7°C)), or in autumn.
Requirements and care: Full sunlight, or in places with light afternoon shade on hot areas. Rich soil, moist soil. Winter mulch. Many Cyperus species are aquatic and therefore require shallow water. Potted plants can be submerged in pools (bring pots indoors over winter). Propagate: by dividing in the spring.
Miscellaneous: This plant has an abundance of uses, ranging from paper making, mat making, a biofuel, eaten as a vegetable, sweet making, and in ancient time was used as incense.

Papyrus Plants

Papyrus is a member of a group of grass-like plants called nutsedges. It produces solid, triangular-shaped stems that can become quite tall, sometimes reaching a height of 6 to 10 feet. When papyrus blooms, up to 100 thin, green, thread-like filaments appear in a circular arrangement at the end of each stem. Each of these filaments develops a tiny, brown flower at its tip that eventually produces seeds. Since papyrus does not produce true leaves, its green stems carry out photosynthesis, providing the plant with nutrients it needs to survive.

How to use Papyrus of Egypt plant in your desert garden

Natural water gardens are the perfect place for papyrus to grow in sheltered courtyards. (Photo: Maureen Gilmer/Special to The Desert Sun)

Imagine hot summer nights along the Nile. That great river's edges are lined with thickets of papyrus, a bullrush of singular beauty that has become inextricable from the aesthetic of ancient Egypt. On those banks they are a forest of plants achieving fifteen feet tall in the wild, growing densely like cattails in a pond. They are wholly dependent on growing in water there, but are sold and grown as terrestrial plants everywhere else.

This shows the most important point to adding papyrus to your outdoor living spaces. Here in the desert, summer heat is like that of Egypt so they should be equally happy here. But unless you grow them in standing water, they won't survive. They just can't obtain enough moisture from the soil to support the stalks and puff-ball heads that make them so cool. That's why this is an ideal water garden plant for the desert summers.

You don't need a water garden to create epic beauty in your home. Just grow each papyrus in a pot or large attractive urn that doesn't drain. If you buy papyrus as a 2- or 5-gallon nursery specimen, make sure the urn is large enough to accommodate the plastic nursery pot and its living contents.

Papyrus in ground where there is little frost can result in a large specimen over time. (Photo: Maureen Gilmer/Special to The Desert Sun)

First, put the urn container where you want to grow the papyrus. Next, set the plastic pot at a reasonable depth so it's at the appropriate level when you fill with water. Here a tip: Stack or nest old plastic nursery containers inside to raise your pot up to the desired level. The final water level should be a few inches above the pot rim. From here on out your only maintenance is keeping the water level consistent and plants will thrive.

Papyrus is not fond of wind. It's so gangly and top heavy that wind easily kinks the stems, then they flop. Wind also draws moisture out of the filament-like leaves so their tips turn brown. The whole head eventually browns out, even standing in water. Remember, in the Nile, they grow packed together so only the outermost plants are battered and broken. Those in the center remain super lush, their roots shaded.

Natural water gardens are the perfect place for papyrus to grow in sheltered courtyards. (Photo: Maureen Gilmer/Special to The Desert Sun)

The best places to grow papyrus as a fun summer change is in sunny spots on the patio, atrium, courtyard or in front of sideyard window views. In all these places they benefit from protection from the buildings. On larger properties with considerable vegetation, papyrus can be grown out in the garden to add a big change of form and texture to high visibility spots.

Papyrus is a great choice for around enclosed pools and spas. Their natural association with water and heat, plus animation makes them perfect for intimate spaces. The transparency of home grown papyrus allows you to position them as a see-though plant to solve problems. Place against a creative background to make a stand-out cool accent. Just remember the wind open pool areas are not always suitable.

The transparency of papyrus and its animation make the ultimate architectural accent. (Photo: Maureen Gilmer/Special to The Desert Sun)

The plants are classified as Cyperus papyrus, from a genus that includes dozens of well-recognized reeds and rushes. They come into garden centers after the last frost as they are tender and designated Zone 9. Due to their role as a riverbank stabilizer, they go dormant in the winter and can be moved elsewhere to spend the winter dry. That's the best time to divide their roots into more plants next year – if the spirit moves you.

Why not use that potted papyrus to take all the extra water you pour down the drain. Visit it every day and check the levels. While you're there you might discover dragonflies drawn by this small moist pot on the balcony.

Close your eyes one hot summer day and tell me if you are in Egypt or the Coachella Valley. That shows how well suited papyrus are to our summer gardens. It's the joy of locals who suffer through the heat. This year, establish links to another desert culture with its signature plant. Let papyrus of the pharaohs lend your yard all the romance and beauty of Cleopatra's digs.

Cattails on the left and papyrus on the right demonstrate how similar these plants really are. (Photo: Maureen Gilmer/Special to The Desert Sun)

Frequent papyrus problems and diseases

Leaves turn yellow: this is generally connected to a lack of water or to temperatures that are too low.
It may also be due to a lack of light.

Whatever the case, add more water, check that the room is at least 60°F (16°C) warm, and give it as much light as you can.

In case aphids attack, follow our recommendations to fight against aphids.

Watch the video: DIY PAMPAS GRASS how to prep for home decor!