How to Propagate Papyrus

The Egyptian paper plant, or its umbrella-plant cousin, is easy to propagate.

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Cyperus alternifolius, also known as papyrus or umbrella palm, is an attractive grassy plant.

Q. A friend has a beautiful papyrus that she got in Greece; there are a bunch of stalks growing in just plain water. Are these plants hard to propagate?

A. Your friend may have Cyperus papyrus, the Egyptian plant that's used to make paper. The plant's close cousin in the U.S. is Cyperus involucratus, sometimes referred to as C. alternifolia, or the umbrella plant.

It's pretty easy to propagate Cyperus but the process may feel counter-intuitive: you root the cutting upside-down. Simply cut one of the stalks, roughly eight to 10 inches from the top. Then invert the cutting so that the stem is uppermost, and place the leaves in water. The leaves may brown out, but not to worry; just keep changing the water every few days. In about three weeks you should start seeing new growth appearing near the leaf nodes.

You can also propagate papyrus by simple division. Established clumps benefit from being divided every few years.

Papyrus occurs naturally in boggy areas, so your papyrus will need to live in moist if not wet conditions. It's hardy to 25 degrees F, so if you live in areas colder than USDA Zone 10, you'll want to keep it indoors for the winter. In warm climates, avoid planting in open water; it may become invasive. Instead, confine the roots in a tub. In Zones 8 and 9, the top may die back to the ground, but if the roots don't freeze, the plant may survive. Indoors, you can grow it in either a tub of water or in regular potting soil that's moistened regularly.

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