Cyperus Alternifolius Care: Tips On Growing The Umbrella Papyrus

Cyperus alternifolius [sy-PEER-us, al-tern-ee-FOH-lee-us] is one of the most popular houseplants from the sedge family Cyperaceae.

The plant is native to Madagascar, the Arabian Peninsula, and many East African states (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Malawi, Mozambique, Sudan, Somalia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe).

But, it has also been naturalized in many tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world, such as the southern USA, New Zealand, many Pacific Islands, and many parts of Australia.

Attractive Cyperus Alternifolius growing by a backyard pond.

You may hear it called by its common names including:

  • Umbrella Plant
  • Umbrella Palm
  • Umbrella Sedge
  • Umbrella Papyrus
  • Umbrella Grass

Cyperus Alternifolius Care

Size & Growth

C. alternifolius is a semi-aquatic (like variegated Acorus gramineus), perennial, grass-like plant hardy to USDA zones 9-12.

It typically grows to 18” – 48” inches in height; however, occasionally, it can grow up to 5’ feet.

The plant features multiple upright stems long, rigid, and slender and topped with large leafy bracts.

The green-colored leafy bracts grow into a circle looking like an umbrella.

This is why the plant is commonly referred to as an umbrella papyrus plant.

The leafy bracts are often confused for leaves, but the true leaves of the plant are located on the lower side and cover the bases of the stems.

The leaves of the umbrella papyrus plant are also reduced to long sheaths.

Flowering and Fragrance

Cyperus plants produce unattractive, flattened and elongated flower spikelets in summers.

Bloom Time: July to August.

The flowers grow in dense clusters at the tip of the stems, between the leafy bracts.

They are initially green but turn brown when they get mature.

Light & Temperature

The umbrella plant prefers a warm, humid environment and grows best in part shade.

While it can grow in full sun, the harsh sun rays can cause scorching of the leaves.

The plant cannot survive cold weather; the roots cannot tolerate temperatures lower than 15° degrees Fahrenheit (-9° C), and leafy bracts will turn brown if exposed to frost.

United States hardiness zone 8 – 11 (USDA Zone).

Watering and Feeding

Since cyperus papyrus is a semi-aquatic plant, it requires an adequate amount of water for proper growth.

This is why it is often grown as a pond plant.

Even in its natural habitat, the plant is usually seen growing at damp sites, near waterways.

When grown as a houseplant, the best way to ensure the plants’ water requirements is to place the pot in a plate or bowl filled with water.

The plant doesn’t mind getting a bit submerged in water.

Fertilize the plant once a month, during active growth.

Soil & Transplanting

While Cyperus involucratus is easily grown in the regular potting soil, it thrives in rich peaty soil containing 2 parts moss to 1 part sand to 1 part loam and is wet and boggy.

5.5 to 6.5 is the preferred soil pH range of the umbrella plant.

Since this cyperus plant cannot tolerate cold weather, it should be transferred to pot before the first frost in fall and kept indoors during the winters.

When grown in pots, the plant may need to be repotted to larger pots once a year.

Grows well in both standing water (up to 4” inches) and in bog plant soils.

Grooming and Maintenance

Cyperus alternifolius is an easy-to-grow and low maintenance plant.

The plant grows long roots, and when it is planted in pots, the roots often grow out of them and invade the bowl or the plate below it.

Many gardeners choose to cut the roots to limit them to a particular area.

One thing to note here is the umbrella plant can even tolerate severe cutting of roots, and it will not cause any harm to the plant.

It also needs some pruning to remove the dying leaves and stems as they look unattractive.

How to Propagate Umbrella Plant

Propagation of an umbrella plant is done in a number of ways – through seeds, division, and cuttings.

If propagating through seeds, simply sow them in wet soil.

Make sure to water regularly, and the seedlings will start to appear within a few weeks.

Another method to propagate the cyperus alternifolius plant is to cut the clumps into sections using a sharp knife and plant them separately.

Propagation through cuttings is considered the most efficient and reliable method, and there are several methods of doing it.

The simplest way is to remove a whole stem of the plant and cut it, using a pair of sharp scissors, to around 4” inches in length.

Now, cut the leaflets to about half and place the cutting, upside down, in small jars filled with water.

The submerged leaflets will form a new stem within a few weeks.

As the new plant stem grows out of the water surface, it will develop roots as well as new leaflets.

When the new growth stem has developed a reasonable set of roots, take the cutting out of the water and remove the newly formed stem from the old one and plant it into a pot filled with potting compost.

Make sure to water the newly potted plant regularly, and it will grow to a substantial size within a few months.

The plant also spreads through self-seeding under optimum growing conditions.

If things are too dark it will tell you by producing very few new shoots.

Cyperus Umbrella Pest or Diseases

The greatest concern for the umbrella papyrus is spider mite.

However, they are easily controlled by spraying the plant with neem oil insecticide.

Umbrella Sedge Uses

Cyperus alternifolius is one of the most widely cultivated landscape plants grown as a background plant, accent plant, or incorporated into a water feature.

This garden plant loves moist soil works great in water gardens with partial shade.

It’s suggested to use it as a water plant.