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Flowers and Plants
Great Design Plant: Papyrus
Out of Africa and into your garden, gently swaying papyrus adds an exotic touch to water features and riverbeds
We've all seen papyrus — in African landscapes, woven into paper and as backdrops to exotic resort destinations — but how and where does papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) thrive outside of these instances? Is living along the Nile River required for growing it? While it's true that papyrus naturally grows in tropical bogs and along stream edges, it's able and willing to be cultivated in a residential garden as well. If you've decided to include a water garden in your landscape or are plagued by poorly drained soil, papyrus may be the plant for you. What could be better in the oppressive heat of summer than the whirring of your thriving papyrus plants swaying in the breeze?
Botanical name: Cyperus papyrus
Common names: Papyrus, Egyptian papyrus
USDA zones: 9 to 11 (find your zone)
Water requirement: Water loving
Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Mature size: 6 to 10 feet tall; 2 to 4 feet wide
Benefits and tolerances: Prefers wet soils
Seasonal interest: Blooms July through September; dormant in winter
When to plant: Plant seedlings and divide in spring
Distinguishing traits. Papyrus is characterized by its long, gracefully arching stems that can reach up to 10 feet in length. Topping the stems are 1-foot-long sprays of fibrous stems. These clusters will continue to fill out until they form a soft, globular crown. Terminal flower clusters appear in summer, followed by small berries.
King Tut papyrus, shown here, is an award-winning and attractive papyrus cultivar.
How to use it. Papyrus is commonly seen planted along ponds and aquatic gardens, owing to its natural habitat. Allow the plant to form a mass in order to create a soft and natural focal point alongside companion aquatic plants like water lilies (Nymphaea spp) or lotus (Nelumbo spp).
Papyrus grows rapidly, so it is recommended that you plant it along large water features or plant it in a container and then put the container in the water. This will prevent the plant from taking over the pond and make maintenance easier.
Papyrus tolerates standing water as well as relatively dry soil, so it can also be used in rain gardens or along dry riverbeds.
You can even plant papyrus in containers for a more structured and minimalist impact. Minimize drainage by plugging holes in planters.
Planting notes. Papyrus is native to warm climates and therefore is not suitable for growing outdoors everywhere. In some climates, papyrus is treated as an annual or brought indoors over winter. While it typically goes dormant in most climates over winter, rhizomes protected from frost underground will resprout in spring.
Papyrus grows best in rich, fertile soils that maintain constant moisture — it even will grow in shallow water. It’s more of a marginal plant and doesn’t grow well in deep water like water lilies will. Plant it in full to partial sun, while allowing it to thrive in partial shade. It’s a plant that requires medium maintenance — keep the soil wet, remove old culms (stems) after flowering and protect it from wind for best success.
See more guides to great design plants
Ideabook published on July 29, 2012.
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