512 Cyperus involucratusCommon Names: umbrella sedge, umbrella plant, galingale Family: Cyperaceae (sedge Family)
Cyperus involucratus, the umbrella sedge, is a close cousin of the famous Egyptian papyrus plant (Cyperus papyrus), which it resembles. Like papyrus, the umbrella plant grows in clumps in wet and boggy areas, although it will thrive in drier situations as well. The clumps are composed of slender triangular stems that arise from a network of woody rhizomes and grow to a height of 2-6 ft (0.6-1.8 m). The small basal leaves are barely noticeable as they are reduced to sheaths around the bottom of the stems. At the stem tips are about two dozen leaflike bracts that are 6-15 in (15.2-38.1 cm) long, about 0.5 in (1.3 cm) wide and radially arranged like the spokes of wheel. Clusters of small greenish flowers grow from the center of the disk. Flowers are followed by small fruits that mature to dark brown.
This tender perennial, Cyperus involucratus, is believed to be native to moist boggy areas and lake and river margins on the island of Madagascar (Malagasy Republic). It has naturalized throughout much of Africa and in other tropical regions.
CultureCan easily be grown in good garden soil. Light: Sun or shade. In bright sun, clumps will be compact and the stems closely packed. Under shady conditions clumps will grow higher and be composed of fewer stems and larger leaves giving a more graceful aspect. Moisture: Umbrella plant is happy growing in shallow water but can also handle drier situations (like in your perennial bed). Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. This is a tender perennial. In Zones 8 and 9 frost will kill back foliage but the plant will recover if the root mass is not frozen. Propagation: Divide clumps to propagate. An easy way to get more plants is to simply place an "umbrella" in wet sand. New plants will begin to grow from it within a few weeks.
Use umbrella plant as accent along the banks of lakes and ponds. Confined to containers, it also works well as a background plant in small fish ponds and pools - plan on an upright, erect clump growing 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) in height. It also makes a nice background plant in the garden where it thrives with just occasional waterings. I grow it in a shady area under Chinese fan palms along and surrounded by impatiens (Impatiens wallerana) where it forms graceful 6 ft (1.8 m) high clumps with huge gracefully drooping leaves.
Umbrella plant is also a great choice for containers and will thrive in regular potting soil with regular watering. This plant should always be included in "swamp pots", arrangements of living bog and marsh plants in containers that are kept wet where it will add height and bulk.
Umbrella plant is a fascinating and beautiful plant which is easy to grow under wet or dry conditions. The beautifully symmetric green disks are held atop slender swaying stems that lend a tropical touch to fish ponds and gardens. Umbrella plant is inexpensive, easy to find, and easy to propagate and is much appreciated by water gardeners. Another member of this genus is the papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) from which the ancient Egyptians made paper. Both of these grasslike plants are members of the Cyperaceae or sedge family that is distinguished from the similar appearing members of the grass (Poaceae) family.
This is the same plant that you may see identified as Cyperis alternifolius in many garden books. The botanist say that species name was mis-applied to the umbrella sedge which is properly called Cyperus involucratus
In warm climates umbrella plant may be invasive so do not plant in natural bodies of water. Plant in tubs or otherwise confine roots to prevent runaway growth. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council places this species in its Category II: "Invasive exotics that have increased in abundance or frequency but have not yet altered Florida plant communities to the extent shown by Category I species."
Jack Scheper 06/27/98; updated 12/28/00, 11/14/03, 9/3/04