Umbrella Palm (Cyperus alternifolius), also known as umbrella papyrus, is native to Madagascar. It grows in the form of shrubs and in most cases, these are wrongly mistaken for grasses. Both are monocots, but the umbrella palm tree is a sedge. In fact, one common name for Cyperus alternifolius is “umbrella sedge.”
Umbrella palm has several stems growing directly upward from a mass of roots and an umbrella-shaped cluster of leaves at the top of each stem. The leaves of the umbrella palm plant are narrow and flattened and only 6″ to 10″ long. All the leaves are arranged atop triangular stems.
Cyperus alternifolius is easy to grow, but it does require plenty of water. It’s most happy growing in shallow water, damp gardens, and around ponds and riparian edges.
Where to Use Umbrella Palms
It makes a wonderful centerpiece for ponds, but it’s equally effective as a house plant. They look fantastic in large pots on patios, porches, and lanais, too.
In the home, you can add it to the shallow water of a paludarium placed in a warm room. Use compost that’s sufficiently nourishing, composed, for example, of loam mixed with rotted turf, sand, and some peat. High quality pond aquatic potting medium works well, too.
Cyperus alternifolius is one of the rare indoor plants that likes to be kept soaking wet at all times; it is easily grown in a dish of water.
How to Plant Umbrella Palm
The umbrella palm plant grows easily from seeds, cuttings, or root division. You may choose to purchase seeds if you desire a large number of these plants to help fill in a pond. You can also purchase a more mature plant from a nursery and take cuttings of the leaf clusters.
Propagation is not difficult. You can divide the rhizomes when you pot them up or moved them in the garden. However, move them as little as possible. They only form nice clumps if left undisturbed.
Growing Umbrella Palm from Seed.
Seeds are generally the most economical way to start these lovely houseplants. To grow from seed:
- Fill small pots or large cell trays with rich, wet potting soil
- Stand these containers in a tray filled with a water to soak the soil
- Place the seeds on the top of the cells or pots and cover loosely with more potting mix
- Provide a humidity dome to help keep tray from drying out
- Check to insure the tray stays filled with fresh water at all times.
- Germination should occur within 12 to 14 days
Allow plants to grow until they are large enough to pot up or plant out in your garden pond
Growing Umbrella Palm from Cuttings
You can also propagate them by cutting off the terminal rosette of leaves together with a piece of stem about 1 cm (1/2 inch) long. Place it either on the surface of water or in a muddy compost in a warm propagator, where it soon forms roots.
Planting umbrella palm in water with the leaf crowns submerged results in new shoot growth from the cluster. To propagate umbrella palm from cuttings, check out the video below:
Care Guide for Umbrella Palm
Taking care of your umbrella palm tree is easy as long as you set your houseplant up for success. Remember, Cyperus alternifolius, is primarily a water plant. They grow in slow-moving fresh water in the wild. Replicating this environment is the best way to grow umbrella papyrus successfully.
Umbrella palm needs to remain most, even sodden, at all times. To ensure your houseplant gets the moisture it needs to thrive, consider using a self-watering container. Choose one with an extra deep reservoir and keep it topped up.
Alternatively, place your plant in a large pot saucer and keep it filled with water. Make sure the pot’s drainage holes are submerged.
Fertilize the plant monthly during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer diluted to 1/2 the strength recommended on the label.
Umbrella palm trees thrive in full sun as long as their roots are cool and damp. They’ll also be perfectly happy in partial shade.
Indoors, place your papyrus plant somewhere with bright, indirect light. If you’re not sure your plant is getting enough light, consider adding a grow light.
Know the light your plants really get by checking with a light meter.
For optimal shape, remove dead and broken stems regularly. Every four or five years, the overgrown center should be dug out, saving the outside divisions.
Replant portions of remaining rhizomes in several pots or throughout your water garden.
Umbrella palm trees prefer a mild temperature range of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They begin to suffer below 55 degrees, and temperatures below 45 degrees will damage the plant.
Umbrella papyrus likes slight acidic soil that holds a lot of moisture. We discourage the use of peat moss for most gardening use, and it’s banned in many areas of the world. If you’re unable to find an acidic peat-free compost, amend the soil with an acidic fertilizer.
If you live in a warm climate where the temperature rarely drops below 45 degrees F, you may choose to grow your umbrella palm outside.
Homeowners with a garden pond may even want to try planting umbrella palm in water as a focal point for their water feature.
Choose a place that receives partial sun or is only exposed to direct sunlight in the morning or late afternoon.
You’ll need to locate the plant near or in water. If you don’t have a garden pond, look for low spots in the landscape that retain water for long periods of time after rains. You’ll likely still need to water it several times a week for the best health.
In temperate climates, dig up your umbrella plant and overwinter it indoors in a container. In subtropical zones, 9 to 11, cover it to protect it from damage during rare night-time freezes.
Common Pests & Diseases
Umbrella plants are generally resistant to diseases and don’t attract very many pests.
However, indoors, they may fall victim to spider mites and mealy bugs. Use a mild insecticidal soap spray or neem oil to treat spider mites.
Mealy bugs are best removed by hand with an alcohol soak cotton ball and a thorough cleaning.
Outdoors, this plant may also attract aphids. Remove these pests with the force of spray from a garden hose. Generally, washing aphids off plants every other day for a week removes the threat of damage to plants.
Health Benefits of Umbrella Tree Leaves
Umbrella sedge is related to two other common sedges: Cyperus esculentus and Cyperus rotundus.
Both of these cousin plants have well-known and documented health benefits. Cyperus esculentus, also called “chufa” or “tiger nut,” is a highly nutritious food source for both people and animals.
Cyperus rotundus, also known as Purple Nutsedge, boasts a whole host of medicinal uses that have been studied at length.
Unfortunately, not as much study has been done on Cyperus alternifolius umbrella palm benefits. The few studies done show that umbrella plant benefits on health are:
- Significant anti-bacteria action of an extract of the flowers
- May help protect the liver from toxins
- Effective against gastric ulcers
Interestingly, this variety has proven to be useful for wetland reclamation.
- Removes excess nutrients that cause eutrophication in water bodies.
- Umbrella palm removes heavy metals
- Can be used to treat wastewater
Umbrella palm benefits in a garden pond become obvious when you learn about its ability to keep freshwater clean and healthy for wildlife. They make a stunning centerpiece for any bog garden or rain garden.
However, umbrella palm is also an attractive houseplant that’s easy for any level of expertise. With the right soil, bright indirect light, and the proper container, this tropical beauty adds texture and structure to any houseplant collection.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2011 and has been completely updated.