Cyperus plants (umbrella grass or umbrella papyrus) are not only known for being low-maintenance and their ability to be easily propagated but for their whimsical appearance as well. They are the perfect addition either to your garden or within your home and are a great challenge for beginners without being too difficult.
If you are interested in learning how to grow and care for cyperus plants, you’re in luck. This post should serve as your ultimate source!
But first, what exactly is the cyperus grass?
A plant deeply rooted in human history, the cyperus plant continues to be one of the most well-known and widely-used plants around the globe. It is a semi-aquatic grass-like plant that can be perennial or annual depending on the environment in which it is grown.
The cyperus plant resembles a leafy umbrella, from which it gets the nickname “the umbrella plant.”
While their flowers are not the main attraction, they do bloom between July and August producing tightly packed creamed colored spikelets at the tips of the stems. They require lots of water making them difficult to overwater and need lots of bright, indirect sunlight which makes them fairly easy to care for.
They are fast growing and do not leave you waiting long for beautiful results.
|Scientific name||Cyperus alternifolius|
|Common names||Umbrella Papyrus; Umbrella Plant; Umbrella Grass; Australian Bush Onion; Paper Plant|
|Plant Type||Semi-aquatic perennial grass; Houseplant|
|Height and Width||18-36 inches tall; 15-18 inches wide|
|Origin||Africa; South Africa; Arabian Peninsula; Madagascar|
|Flower colors||Cream; Green; light yellow|
|Foliage color||Green; Dark Green; variegated|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to partial shade|
|Soil Type & pH||Wet Soil; 6.0 to 8.5 pH (slightly acidic)|
|Special features||Triangular green stems, summer-flowering plant, semi-aquatic, spikey flowers|
Cyperus plants are native to Madagascar, the Arabian Peninsula, and several of the East African states including Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya. Cyperus alternifolius is a close relative of Cyperus papyrus, or as we know it, the papyrus plant.
The papyrus plant was used by Ancient Egyptians for centuries to make paper, baskets, sandals, and more. That being said, the cyperus plant is almost completely extinct in these native regions, including the Nile Delta.
Cyperus alternifolius was extremely prevalent in Madagascar where the swamps provided the perfect moist and humid environment for this plant to thrive. Around the swamps, the roots of the cyperus plant are usually found completely underwater.
The cyperus plant was eventually naturalized to grow in the southern United States, New Zealand, and Australia, all warm and humid environments in which the plant thrives best.
Since then, it has become one of the most popular indoor plants as well as one of the most popular water plants available.
How to Grow Umbrella Papyrus
When grown outside in warm and slightly humid environments, the cyperus grass needs little human intervention. However, you do want to make sure you are planting it in a sunny area that has fertile soil near a water source. They do very well as pond plants being that they are a semi-aquatic species.
It is important that you plant the seeds at least 3 feet into the ground so that your plant grows upright and does not tip over. Some light pruning may be necessary if you wish to keep your plant healthy throughout the entire year.
It is important to note that, upon the right conditions, this plant has the potential to become invasive. Use caution when planting your cyperus outdoors, particularly if you are near public land in which the plant could invade.
One of the best ways to propagate your cyperus plant is by splitting the root clumps. Once you have taken a sample from the root clump, you can simply replant it in its own pot. This is an extremely simple and easy process and will allow you to create many new plants which can be great as gifts.
Another method of propagation is to cut sections of the stems off that are at least 4 inches long. You can then place the section upside down in a glass or bowl of water which will allow roots to form on the opposite side. Once the roots have formed, you can then plant it in a separate pot from the original cyperus.
A more difficult method of propagation involves gathering seeds found in the fruit of the cyperus plant and planting those in a separate pot. You want to be sure you keep the soil moist and you place the pot in an area that will provide plenty of sunlight.
To ensure the environment is humid enough for your seeds to germinate you can cover the pot with plastic wrap that has holes to provide airflow. It is best to propagate your cyperus plant during the spring months and should be done every 3 to 4 years. This will help your plant to continue generating new growth.
Cyperus prefers a slightly acidic soil with a pH ranging from 6.0 to 8.5. While they can grow well in regular potting soil, a soil that has plenty of organic matter including peat moss, sand, and loam is best.
Because it is semi-aquatic, cyperus requires plenty of water and prefers damp soil. It is sometimes best to let the roots fully submerge in water. It is particularly important that you keep the soil constantly damp when attempting to germinate seeds.
When grown outside, gardeners typically grow their cyperus as annuals which do not require any pruning. If you are growing your plant outside and want it to grow as a perennial, you will need to do some pruning to generate new growth. However, do not prune after September 1st so that new growth is not damaged by frost.
If you are growing your cyperus inside, it is best to prune it every few months to generate new growth. Pruning dead leaves and stems will also allow you to keep your plant looking nice and healthy.
Repotting and Transplanting
Once your indoor cyperus has matured, you may notice that it fills your pot entirely. This usually occurs every year and is an indicator that it is time to re-pot your specimen. Similarly, because these species require so much moisture, the excess water can cause the soil and its nutrients at the bottom of the pot to begin disintegrating.
How to Care for Umbrella Grass
Now that you know the best conditions for planting cyperus, here are some tips on how to care for them later on.
Cyperus plants are semi-aquatic and therefore need plenty of water for growth and survival. It is most important to keep the roots constantly moist by either ensuring your soil is nice and damp or by using a receptacle with which the roots will dangle in standing water.
A great way to achieve this is by placing your pot on a plate covered with water. This can also be done with a bowl.
If you live in a hot, dry environment, it is imperative that you water your plant every day. However, during the winter months, these species do not need as much water. While it is very difficult to overwater these specimens in the summer months, they can develop root rot if overwatered during the winter months.
These plants love bright sunlight and can withstand more sun than other plants due to their watering needs. You do want to make sure the sunlight is coming from an indirect source so that the leaves on your plant do not burn or singe.
Cyperus plants will do just fine if they are covered by shade for a few hours a day but you must ensure they are getting plenty of sunlight throughout the rest of the day.
Temperature and Humidity
While cyperus plants prefer warm, humid environments, humidity is not as important due to the amount of water they need to survive. Because they are constantly watered and the soil stays damp, your cyperus will create its own humidity in the air surrounding it.
If you are growing your houseplant inside, it is best to keep the temperature of your home between 40 and 72 degrees F. This should not be difficult as that range encompasses normal room temperature. The lowest temperature a cyperus plant can withstand is a little above 30 degrees F. It can die if it is exposed to frost.
During the first year of growth, fertilization is extremely helpful in ensuring your cyperus plant actually grows. It is recommended that fertilizer be added more frequently during the spring and summer months (every four water sessions) and less during the fall and winter months (every six water sessions.)
Most fertilizers will work but ones specifically made for houseplants are the best. The most optimal time to fertilize your cyperus plant is during the watering process. This will ensure you do not fertilize one area too much. Be sure to keep the fertilizer away from the leaves so as not to cause a fungal infection.
Pest and diseases
Rust fungus is a common disease that afflicts cyperus plants and is caused by fungal parasites which thrive in moist environments. The rust fungus can cause discoloration of the stems and leaves and eventually death. You can treat rust fungus with neem oil or by spraying on a baking soda formula.
The spider mite is another common type of pest that infects these species. They are extremely hard to see with the naked eye but deposit web-like strands that indicate their presence. Spider mites can be removed by using neem oil or insecticide. It is also helpful to clean your skin and clothing after being around outdoor plants from which the pests can be transferred.
While it is hard to overwater cyperus plants, it is possible if you continue watering during the winter months the same way you do during the spring and summer. Overwatering can cause root rot which can completely destroy your plant. If root rot does occur, propagation can be employed to grow a new specimen.
Common Varieties and Cultivars
Some of the most popular types of Cyperus plants include:
- “Gracilis” – these houseplants are native to Australia and have been naturalized in California and Hawaii. This variety lays flat to the ground from which it gets its nickname “slimjim flatsedge.”
- “Nana” – these are the dwarf umbrellas that closely resemble Alternifolius but only grow up to four inches in height.
- “Variegatus” – these cyperus varieties have been given the name due to their variegated leaves. These houseplants are specifically known for their ornamental properties.
- “Giganteus” – these were and still are commonly used in regions of Mexico for weaving hats.
- “Esculentus” – these can be eaten as a vegetable and are, in some areas, commercially produced.
Other species within the cyperus genus include:
- C. albostriatus (dwarf umbrella)
- C. papyrus (papyrus)
- C. rotundus — considered an invasive weed
- C. articulatus
- C. involucratus (umbrella plant)
- C. multifolius — possibly extinct
- C. bulbosus
- C. laevigatus
- C. textilis
- C. pangorei
Cyperus is a great option for beginners whether you are planting in your garden or in a pot within your home. While they do need lots of water and sunlight, they are extremely robust and can be easily propagated.
This species will provide your garden and home with beautiful and whimsical decoration without adding extra stress to your life. This houseplant is one with much history and is deeply rooted in the human story. While they are a tropical species, they will easily adapt to your home’s environment and will bring some tropical flair to your life.
*image by PantherMediaSeller/depositphotos
North Carolina Extension Gardener: Cyperus alternifolius
University of Wisconsin: Papyrus, Cyperus papyrus