How to Plant & Grow Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus)


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Cyperus papyrus growing in a pond with water lettuce
Paper reed, also called papyrus, has a rich history in Ancient Egyptian culture. Photo by Drew Avery / CC BY-SA 2.0

Are you looking for a tropical plant for your pond environment? Paper reed, also commonly known as papyrus, papyrus sedge, Indian matting plant or Nile grass, may be the plant for you! Cyperus papyrus, belonging to the family Cyperaceae, is native to Africa and grows naturally in the countries of Africa, Madagascar, and the Mediterranean. Due to the warm and tropical nature of these countries, this plant thrives in warmer areas that offer plenty of moist soil, allowing paper reed to become invasive in U.S locations such as Florida and Louisiana.

The papyrus plant has a rich history behind it and was known quite well in Ancient Egypt. There, the plant was used for bowls, utensils, baskets, and medicine. Many may be familiar with papyrus in the sense that it was the first source used for writing paper and it is thought to be what baby Moses was placed in in the biblical story of Moses. However, as human development increased and papyrus was transported elsewhere, it has more or less disappeared from the area of Egypt.

This plant is easy to care for, and Cyperus papyrus does best when planted in extremely moist soils or in standing water, making it the perfect plant to have as a background for more showy flowers in aquatic gardens or decorative ponds.

Facts, Benefits & Uses of Papyrus

a papyrus gonolek bird on paper reed cyperus papyrus
Many species of bird depend on the habitat that papyrus provides, such as this papyrus gonolek.
Photo by Nik Borrow / CC BY-NC 2.0

Paper reed is an environmentally friendly plant to grow in your aquatic space! Starting with the direct benefits for the environment, papyrus offers the perfect resting site for birds, as they settle in the fluffy, feather duster-like heads on the tip of the plant. The birds that occupy this space are typically social in nature and make a wonderful addition to your outdoor habitat.

Papyrus is also quite an effective filter for pollution in waterways. When planted where toxic wastewater runs into the water, papyrus has been known to absorb the dangerous waste before it harms the location’s other plant and animal inhabitants.

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Papyrus Fact Sheet:
PLANT TYPE
Semi-aquatic perennial grass
HARDINESS ZONES
USDA 9 – 12
LIGHT REQUIREMENTS
Full sun to partial shade
BLOOM COLOR
Brown, copper, green
BLOOM PERIOD
June – October (Summer to Fall)
MAXIMUM GROWTH
1.8-3.6 meters (6-12 ft.) in native habitats; ornamental: .9-1.8 m (3-6 ft.)
PLANTING DEPTH
Muddy soil up to 3 ft deep
WATER QUALITY
pH 6.0 – 8.5

Papyrus Growth, Hardiness & Climate

how to grow paper reed cyperus papyrus
Paper reed can grow quite tall and wide, so keep this in mind when deciding whether or not to grow it. Photo by pjt56 —, CC BY-SA 3.0

The growth rate of paper reed is quite fast and can grow up to a height of 12 ft. in native habitats and up to 6 ft. tall when grown as an ornamental. These plants also grow from 2-5 ft. wide, taking up quite a bit of space. Due to the fast-growing nature of this plant, they can become invasive in areas, so this is something to watch out for while growing paper reed. If you’re seeking a very, very similar plant that’s not so large, consider growing Cyperus papyrus “nanus,” also known as Cyperus haspan or dwarf papyrus/dwarf flatsedge.

The bloom period for paper reed is in the summer from June-October with brown, copper, and green clusters of blooms. As this is a naturally tropical plant, it thrives in the higher temperatures found in USDA hardiness zones 9-12. If you live outside of these zones and still want to grow paper reed, don’t worry! As long as you keep them out of temperatures below 40°F by keeping them inside during winter via a potted environment, they should do just fine. Regardless, ensure that they are in a warm, sunny, and moist location for optimal growing results.


How to Plant Papyrus In Ponds

how to plant papyrus in ponds
Papyrus can be planted in saturated soil or in standing water. Photo by CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Paper reed is easy to plant and does quite well on its own. It’s perfect for lining aquatic environments or even growing in a bright location indoors.

When propagating paper reed, you start by cutting off the top few inches of the stem and then placing the leafy part of the cutting upside down into water or well drained potting mix. In a few weeks’ time, roots and shoots will form and be ready for transfer into its new environment! This is the fastest way to grow a new papyrus plant and oftentimes works better than starting from a seed.

Once you have paper reed that is ready to be planted, select your area carefully. Pick a place that has extremely moist soil or standing water (up to 6 in. deep) as this will help your papyrus plant thrive. Also ensure that the area has plenty of sunlight, the more sunlight the better. Paper reed takes care of itself for the most part, so finding a proper location is the key to a healthy and happy plant.


How to Care For Papyrus

how to care for papyrus cyperus papyrus
Simply provide papyrus with saturated soil and at least partial sunlight, and it’ll be happy.

As discussed in the above section, ensure that you plant your paper reed in poorly drained soil or even in a location with standing water. This will take care of the watering aspect as long as the area stays in a moist or wet state. In the fall, you will need to cut back dead stems in order to keep your plant looking healthy and ready to take on the winter months.

Overall, the papyrus plant is quite easy to grow and can be left alone a majority of the time. Paper reed should be planted in wet soil in a place with full sunlight, and as long as it is kept moist, your assistance will be kept minimal.


How to Winter Papyrus

As a plant that hails from tropical areas, it does not do well in colder temperatures. Once the temperature goes below 40°F (4°C), the paper reed’s health will decline and could die. The main part of the plant flower that you need to strive to protect are the rhizomes, or roots, and if you have the means to do that, then you won’t even have to worry about bringing your paper reeds indoors. If this is not the case, you can place the plant in a few inches of standing water and bring it inside to warmer temperatures. When replaced in its environment in the spring, new growths will form, replacing the stressed and withering growths that winter can cause.


Is Papyrus Toxic, Poisonous or Invasive?

Paper reed is native to portions of the Mediterranean, Africa, and Madagascar. The plant is located in or very near standing water sources, such as streams, swamps, lakes, or other small bodies of water. Paper reed is currently being wiped from its native regions due to the rise of human development in these areas.

In terms of being invasive, this plant has escaped cultivation in a number of states including Hawaii, California, and Florida. By becoming invasive in these areas, it has begun to block waterways, which not only impacts human recreation but also impedes fish, waterfowl, and other organisms from being able to move throughout the environment. You can help this situation from escalating by planting species that are native to your area or keeping plants of this nature in appropriate pots or baskets. Since paper reed does not tolerate freezing temperatures, if you live below its native hardiness zones it will naturally die off in the winter, helping to prevent it from becoming too invasive (though the seeds can float on wind fairly far, and may overwinter in the soil).

Cyperus papyrus is not known to be toxic and has been used in a multitude of different ways in the past including in fish ponds without negative effects.


Is Papyrus Edible? Will Fish Eat it?

The starchy rhizomes and culms of paper reed are edible, both raw and cooked! In Ancient Egypt, this plant was prepared almost the same way that we prepare potatoes today. Papyrus offers a unique ecosystem hidden among the decaying rhizomes and offers feeding opportunities for some of your pond fish! This is normal and will not hurt the fish.


Where to Buy Papyrus & Seeds? (UK & US)

If you’re looking to have Cyperus papyrus in or near your aquatic environment, you can easily pick some up at your local plant nursery in the US or the UK, either in person or online. Elsewhere in the world, you can utilize an online nursery and request a special order or shipment.

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