How to Grow Papyrus

King Tut grass in sunny container garden

 Kerry Michaels

Papyrus may be best known as the plant used by ancient Egyptians to create the first true paper for their scrolls. but today this perennial sedge is a popular landscape plant, particularly for water gardening Although sometimes referred to as Nile grass, papyrus is actually an aquatic reed, or sedge. Papyrus plants are thought by some to be the iconic "rushes" where the infant Moses was hidden from the Egyptians in the biblical legend.

In appearance, this perennial ornamental grass combines drama, grace, and even humor. Growing in clumps, the papyrus plant extends a tall reedy stem as much as 8 feet tall, atop which perches a clump of umbrella-like grassy rays. The plant is undeniably elegant, but with eccentric touch that makes it look like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book. Papyrus is a dramatic plant that looks great in big, simple containers. It has the stature to be alone in a pot or it can add height and interest to a grouping of container gardens.

Papyrus is usually planted in the spring from nursery-grown plants. It grows quickly to achieve its adult stature, making it ideal to plant as an annual in regions where it is not hardy.

 Botanical Name Cyperus papyrus
 Common Name Papyrus, Egyptian papyrus, King Tut's grass
 Plant Type Perennial reed, sedge
 Mature Size 5–8 feet tall, 3–4 feet wide
 Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
 Soil Type Wet boggy soil
 Soil pH 6.0 to 8.5 (acidic to alkaline)
 Bloom Time Mid- to late summer
 Flower Color Greenish-brown (flowers are insignificant)
 Hardiness Zones 9–11 (USDA)
 Native Area Africa
 Toxicity Non-toxic

Papyrus Care

Papyrus grows fairly easily submerged in shallow water, which is usually accomplished by placing pots on pedestals at the bottom of ponds or large water container gardens. If grown as standalone potted plants on a patio, they will need to be kept constantly moist. In cooler regions, the pots can then be brought indoors to overwinter in a sunroom or greenhouse at the end of the season. Or, the plants can be grown as annuals and discarded.

Papyrus is not affected by any truly serious pests or diseases, but it can be prone to rust fungus, which will discolor the stems and foliage. Dead leaves and stalks should be removed as they appear, but aside from this, there is very little maintenance required with these plants.

Light

Papyrus will grow in both sunny and part shade conditions. If you bring potted plants indoor to overwinter them, give them a bright location. Ideally this will be in a sunroom or greenhouse, but a bright patio door or sunny window will also suffice.

Soil

Papyrus insists on wet, boggy soil. When planted as a perennial, it is best buried in soil covered by shallow water along the margins of ponds or bogs. When used as a container plant for water container gardening, it is usually grown in a pot filled with ordinary peat-based potting soil, which can then be submerged in a larger water-filled container.

Water

Papyrus needs constant water and will die if it is allowed to dry out. When placed in stand-alone containers outside a water garden environment, it should be grown in a sealed pot (no drainage holes) and kept constantly soggy.

Temperature and Humidity

Papyrus is a native plant in tropical and subtropical Africa, so it grows best in warm conditions. But if you bring potted plants indoors for the winter, they prefers cooler conditions for this dormant period—60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

A single dose of balanced fertlizer in the spring will help the plants grow sturdy stems to support the tall growth.

Papyrus Varieties

If you want the texture and beauty of papyrus, but don't want the size, there is a dwarf form you can consider. It is is often sold with the very simple title of Cyperus papyrus 'Dwarf Form'. At just 18 to 24 inches tall, this is a great choice for small water gardens and as a filler or thriller plant in mixed water container gardens. This will also be an easier plant to overwinter indoors.

Potting and Repotting Papyrus

In its common use as a container plant, give papyrus an ordinary peat-based potting soil. The pot can have plenty of drainage holes if it will be submerged in a pond or larger water container garden, but if you are growing it as a stand-alone patio plant, give it a sealed pot without drainage holes, which will allow you to keep it constantly wet.

Papyrus can also be used in combination with other plants as a centerpiece or "thriller." Try combining it with a bright ground cover, like creeping Jenny, and/or a dark sweet potato vine that will drape over the edges of a pot. You could also add a brightly colored coleus to this combination. Just make sure you don't pair it with a plant that doesn't like consistently moist soil, like succulents or cactus.

Propagating Papyrus

Papyrus is quite difficult to grow from seeds, but mature plants are easy to dig up or unpot, then divide the rhizomatous roots into two or three clumps for replanting. Spring is the best time to propagate papyrus.