Cyperus alternifolius – commonly referred to as umbrella papyrus, umbrella sedge, umbrella grass, umbrella plant, or umbrella palm – comes in the shape of a grass-like shrub. It belongs to the very large genus Cyperus of the sedge family, which goes by the botanical name: Cyperaceae.
The plant is native to Madagascar, one of the main islands in the Western Indian Ocean. Their popularity has grown in recent years and it is not uncommon to see Cyperus umbrella houseplants in homes and offices.
Growth and appearance
Cyperus umbrella houseplants typically reach heights of between 18 and 48 inches, although certain species of the plant are able to grow up to an impressive five feet in height. The plant showcases an array of upright stems, which are long, rigid, and slender in style. These stems are topped with sizeable leafy bracts.
The green-colored leafy bracts grow in a circle, which is where the Cyperus umbrella plant gets its name from. These bracts can sometimes be confused for leaves, but the plant’s real leaves are hidden on the lower side of the shrub, covering the stem’s base. The leaves of the umbrella papyrus plant often fall in long sheaths.
Flowering and fragrance
Cyperus umbrella houseplants develop in the shape of elongated and flattened flower spikelets in the summer months. They bloom between July and August, and the flowers grow in dense clusters at the tip of the stems. These are positioned just between the leafy bracts.
They start off as a green hue, turning brown as they mature. Be careful, however, as this discoloration can also be a sign they require more water.
Light and temperature
The Cyperus umbrella enjoys a warm, humid environment and thrives best when placed in partial shade. It’s important to pick a place in your home that offers this environment if you want your Cyperus umbrella houseplants to thrive.
Who should grow this plant?
The Cyperus umbrella houseplants is the shrub to choose if you never quite get growing a plant right. This species cannot be overwatered, as it requires constant moisture at the roots. This makes it easier to look after, as any growers don’t need to worry about whether the soil is drying out or not.
More about this plant
The slender stems, with their statement umbrellas of radiating bracts, give the plant an oriental look, which promises to add interest to the home and garden.
Cyperus umbrella plants come from the sedge family and are also a member of the ancient Papyrus family – a family of over 600 grass-like plants, the majority of which are native to tropical climes and the east coast of Africa.
Because of this, the plant is not as hardy as others and can only withstand outdoor living environments when in tropical to sub-tropical locations. This makes umbrella houseplants a popular option for those living in the United Kingdom and cooler areas where temperatures and humidity are not as high as elsewhere.
When growing these plants in the UK, place them in a moist, warm position for best results.
Their usual habitat
Umbrella plants are native to the swamps of Madagascar. These riparian shrubs are extremely happy when in boggy conditions. They can even thrive with their roots fully submerged in water.
The name for this plant, which we’ve already stated, comes from the arrangement of the leaves at the tips of the stems. The serrated leaves are positioned in a ray around the plant’s central core. In perfect conditions, this central area develops a delicate cluster of florets.
To encourage your plant to bloom, ensure it is kept moist and warm and placed in slightly acidic soil. Every now and again, remove dead stems and fertilize once a year with a diluted liquid plant food.
Growing Cyperus umbrella houseplants
Even though Cyperus umbrella plants are best suited to a moist, warm outdoor location, they are adaptable to the home. You can grow this fascinating plant inside and expect it to reach a height of up to two feet. This means it won’t dominate a space and allows you to keep any growth under control.
Tips for growing umbrella plants indoors
Because this plant is an aquatic species, it grows best when the roots as kept as wet as possible. If you begin to notice leaf tips changing to a shade of brown, this means the roots are too dry.
One way to ensure this plant has constant moisture is to place the potted plant inside an additional pot that has water at the root level. Use a planting mix that is rich in peat to ensure an acidic medium, such as a mix boasting two parts peat, one part loam, and one part sand.
This is the ideal housing for your umbrella plant’s aquatic roots. You can also place any smaller plants you may have in a terrarium.
Umbrella plant care
Care for an umbrella plant when growing indoors is similar to that of the care level required for outdoor umbrella plants. It is also similar to the needs of most tropical houseplants.
The main factor to consider when growing Cyperus houseplants is the moisture level and the consistency of this. The umbrella houseplants must never be in a position where they are able to dry out.
For best results, use a half dilution of fertilizer every month throughout the growing season and stop this in the winter. Watch out for splashing on the leaves, as this can cause fungal diseases to develop, which can spread extremely quickly.
Propagating this plant is very simple. Opt for a cutting that measures between four and six inches and hang it upside down in the water. Once roots begin to emerge, you can place the new plant in the soil. It’s important to separate your houseplant every three years.
To do this, remove the umbrella plant from its original pot and cut out the area of outside growth. Save and pot up this newer growth and throw away the old central part of the plant. This will result in a fresh, vibrant plant, ready to enjoy for the next year!