511 Cyperus papyrusCommon Names: papyrus, Egyptian papyrus, bulrushes (biblical) Family: Cyperaceae (sedge Family)
Long on beauty and history, papyrus has been known and used by Man for millennia. Soft green clouds of papyrus lined the Nile River during the time of the pharaohs. In the Bible the infant Moses was found among the bulrushes, as Cyperis papyrus is also called. Ancient Egyptians kept records of their pyramid building activities on papyrus sheets, from which we get the word "paper." Today papyrus is appreciated for its beauty and is often used in ornamental landscapes especially in pools, ponds and containers.
Like other sedges, the stem is triangular in cross section, and contains a white pith. Strips of this pith are soaked in water, then pounded together and dried to create paper. Like its cousin the umbrella sedge (Cyperus involucratus), the leaves of papyrus are short sheaths that wrap around only the lowest portion of each stem. The slender graceful stems arise from a network of thick woody rhizomes and grow to a height of 10 ft (3.1 m) tend to form large clumps of indeterminate width. They are topped by feathery clusters of wiry branched "spikes" that are 5-12 in (15.2-30.5 cm) in length and arranged in umbels (a spherical or flat-topped shape). A hundred or more of these multiply branched rays have their spikelets arranged to form a delicate sphere but these droop with age, as do we all. A small flower is held at the tip of each spikelet.
Papyrus, Cyperis papyrus, is native to the lakes and rivers of northern Africa, in particular, the countries of Egypt and Sudan. It is now a popular landscape plant, gracing fishponds and pools in frostfree areas around the world!
CulturePapyrus stems grow in great masses in shallow water and wet soils. They spread quickly and extensively. They are less enthusiastic in poorer soils, and more polite about staying in bounds. Light: Papyrus will do well in sun or partial shade. Moisture: Likes wet boggy soil. Will grow in standing water. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. Papyrus is a tender perennial, but it can be grown in Zone 8. Freezing temperatures will kill the top, but the plant will recover if the roots are mulched or are under water. Propagation: The plant is easy to propagate; just divide the clumps. The stems tend to die out in the center of the clump to give a messy, unkempt look. Dig, divide and start new clumps to restore attractiveness.
Papyrus is a big plant and it needs space in order to be appreciated. Use this plant along the shores of lakes, ponds, and slow moving streams to create masses of hazy light green foliage. A single clump can serve as a focal point, or use in pairs to frame a scene. When used in smaller pools and fishponds, grow papyrus in containers placed underwater. This keeps it from invading other plants' territories and simplifies maintenance.
Papyrus is a beautiful plant with a rich history and tradition. Where it can be grown it is both a striking accent in the environment and a great conversation piece. The Egyptian discovery of paper made from papyrus started a tradition of written records that enables us to peek at life in the ancient world. Not bad for a marsh weed!
Jack Scheper 06/26/98, updated: 05/30/99, 12/28/00, 11/16/03, 9/7/04