Cyperus papyrus (papyrus,papyrus sedge, paper reed, Indian matting
plant, Nile grass) is a species of aquatic flowering plant belonging
to the sedge family Cyperaceae. It is a tender herbaceous perennial,
native to Africa, and forms tall stands of reed-suhail swamp
vegetation in shallow water.
Papyrus sedge (and its close relatives) has a very long history of use
by humans, notably by the Ancient Egyptians—it is the source of
papyrus paper, one of the first types of paper ever made. Parts of the
plant can be eaten, and the highly buoyant stems can be made into
boats. It is now often cultivated as an ornamental plant.
In nature, it grows in full sun, in flooded swamps, and on lake
margins throughout Africa, Madagascar, and the Mediterranean
Papyrus in history
7 Further reading
8 External links
This tall, robust, leafless aquatic plant can grow 4 to 5 m (13
to 16 ft) high. It forms a grass-like clump of triangular
green stems that rise up from thick, woody rhizomes. Each stem is
topped by a dense cluster of thin, bright green, thread-like stems
around 10 to 30 cm (4 to 10 in) in length, resembling a
feather duster when the plant is young. Greenish-brown flower clusters
eventually appear at the ends of the rays, giving way to brown,
The younger parts of the rhizome are covered by red-brown, papery,
triangular scales, which also cover the base of the culms.
Botanically, these represent reduced leaves, so strictly it is not
quite correct to call this plant fully "leafless".
Papyrus in history
Main article: Papyrus
Egyptians used the plant (which they called aaru) for many purposes,
most famously for making papyrus. Its name in Greek and in English is
widely believed to have come from Egyptian.
Cyperus papyrus is now
used mainly for decoration, as it is nearly extinct in its native
habitat in the Nile Delta, where in ancient times it was widely
cultivated. Theophrastus's History of Plants (Book iv. 10) states that
it grew in Syria, and according to Pliny's Natural History, it was
also a native plant of the
Niger River and the Euphrates.
Aside from papyrus, several other members of the genus
also have been involved in the multiple uses
Egyptians found for the
plant. Its flowering heads were linked to make garlands for the gods
in gratitude. The pith of young shoots was eaten both cooked and raw.
Its woody root made bowls and other utensils and was burned for fuel.
From the stems were made reed boats (seen in bas-reliefs of the Fourth
Dynasty showing men cutting papyrus to build a boat; similar boats are
still made in southern Sudan), sails, mats, cloth, cordage, and
Theophrastus states that King Antigonus made the rigging of
his fleet of papyrus, an old practice illustrated by the ship's cable,
wherewith the doors were fastened when Odysseus slew the suitors in
his hall (
Odyssey xxi. 390).
The "rush" or "reed" basket in which the Biblical figure
placed may have been made from papyrus.
Thor Heyerdahl built two boats from papyrus, Ra and Ra
II, in an attempt to demonstrate that ancient African or Mediterranean
people could have reached America. He succeeded in sailing Ra II from
Morocco to Barbados. Fishermen in the
Okavango Delta use small
sections of the stem as floats for their nets.
Papyrus growing wild on the banks of the Nile in Uganda
Papyrus can be found in tropical rain forests, tolerating annual
temperatures of 20 to 30 °C (68 to 86 °F) and a pH of 6.0
Papyrus flowers in late summer, and prefers full sun to partly
shady conditions. Like most tropical plants, it is sensitive to frost.
In the United States, it has become invasive in
Florida and has
escaped from cultivation in Louisiana, California, and Hawaii.
Papyrus sedge forms vast stands in swamps, shallow lakes, and along
stream banks throughout the wetter parts of Africa, but it has become
rare in the Nile Delta. In deeper waters, it is the chief constituent
of the floating, tangled masses of vegetation known as sudd. It also
occurs in Madagascar, and some Mediterranean areas such as
The "feather-duster" flowering heads make ideal nesting sites for many
social species of birds. As in most sedges, pollination is by wind,
not insects, and the mature fruits after release are distributed by
Papyrus is a C4 sedge that forms highly productive monotypic stands
over large areas of wetland in Africa.
The papyrus plant is relatively easy to grow from seed, though in
Egypt, it is more common to split the rootstock, and grows quite
fast once established.
C. papyrus and the dwarf cultivar C. papyrus 'Nanus' have gained
the Royal Horticultural Society's
Award of Garden Merit
Award of Garden Merit (confirmed
In Ancient Egypt, papyrus was used for various of purposes such as
baskets, sandals, blankets, medicine, incense, and boats. The woody
root was used to make bowls and utensils, and was burned for fuel.
Egyptians made efficient use of all parts of the plant.
Papyrus was an
important "gift of the Nile" which is still preserved and perpetuated
in the Egyptian culture.
^ a b "
Cyperus papyrus AGM". Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved
Cyperus papyrus". plantzafrica.com.
Cyperus papyrus". FloraBase. Western Australian Government
Department of Parks and Wildlife.
Cyperus papyrus L". Purdue University. Retrieved December 30,
Cyperus papyrus 'Nanus' AGM". Royal Horticultural Society.
^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July
2017. p. 22. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
^ , The
Ancient Egypt website, retrieved on November 15, 2016.
Boar, R. R., D. M. Harper and C. S. Adams. 1999. Biomass Allocation in
Cyperus papyrus in a Tropical Wetland, Lake Naivasha, Kenya. 1999.
Biotropica 3: 411.
Chapman, L.J., C.A. Chapman, R. Ogutu-Ohwayo, M. Chandler, L. Kaufman
and A.E. Keiter. 1996. Refugia for endangered fishes from an
introduced predator in Lake Nabugabo, Uganda. Conservation Biology 10:
Chapman, L.J., C.A. Chapman, P.J. Schofield, J.P. Olowo, L. Kaufman,
O. Seehausen and R. Ogutu-Ohwayo. 2003. Fish faunal resurgence in Lake
Nabugabo, East Africa. Conservation Biology 17: 500-511.
Gaudet, John. 1975. Mineral concentrations in papyrus in various
African swamps. Journal of Ecology 63: 483-491.
Gaudet, John. 1976. Nutrient relationships in the detritus of a
tropical swamp.Archiv für Hydrobiologie 78: 213-239.
Gaudet, John. 1977. Natural drawdown on Lake Naivasha, Kenya and the
formation of papyrus swamps.
Aquatic Botany 3: 1-47.
Gaudet, John. 1977. Uptake and loss of mineral nutrients by papyrus in
tropical swamps. Ecology 58: 415-422.
Gaudet, John. 1978. Effect of a tropical swamp on water quality. Verh.
Internat. Ver. Limnol. 20: 2202-2206.
Gaudet, John. 1978. Seasonal changes in nutrients in a tropical swamp.
Journal of Ecology 67: 953-981.
Gaudet, John. 1980.
Papyrus and the ecology of Lake Naivasha. National
Geographic Society Research Reports. 12: 267-272.
Gaudet, J. and J. Melack. 1981. Major ion chemistry in a tropical
African lake basin. Freshwater Biology 11: 309-333.
Gaudet, J. and C. Howard-Williams. 1985. “The structure and
functioning of African swamps.” In (ed. Denny) The Ecology and
Management of African Wetland Vegetation. Dr.w.Junk, Pub., Dordrecht
Gaudet, John. 1991. Structure and function of African floodplains.
Journal of the East African Natural Historical Society. 82(199): 1-32.
Harper, D.M., K.M. Mavuti and S. M. Muchiri. 1990: Ecology and
management of Lake Naivasha, Kenya, in relation to climatic change,
alien species introductions and agricultural development.
Environmental Conservation 17: 328–336.
Harper, D. 1992. The ecological relationships of aquatic plants at
Lake Naivasha, Kenya. Hydrobiologia. 232: 65-71.
Howard-Williams, C. and K. Thompson. 1985. The conservation and
management of African wetlands. In (ed. Denny) The Ecology and
Management of African Wetland Vegetation. Dr.w.Junk, Pub., Dordrecht
Jones, M.B. and T. R. Milburn. 1978. Photosynthesis in Papyrus
Cyperus papyrus L.), Photosynthetica. 12: 197 - 199.
Jones, M. B. and F. M. Muthuri. 1997. Standing biomass and carbon
distribution in a papyrus (
Papyrus L) swamp on Lake Naivasha,
Kenya. Journal of Tropical Ecology. 13: 347–356.
Jones M.B. and S. W. Humphries. 2002. Impacts of the C4 sedge Cyperus
papyrus L. on carbon and water fluxes in an African wetland.
Hydrobiologia, Volume 488, pp. 107–113.
Maclean, I.M.D. 2004. An ecological and socio-economic analysis of
biodiversity conservation in East African wetlands. Unpublished PhD
thesis, University of East Anglia, Norwich.
Maclean, I.M.D., M. Hassall, M. R. Boar and I. Lake. 2006. Effects of
disturbance and habitat loss on papyrus-dwelling passerines.
Biological Conservation., 131: 349-358.
Maclean, I.M.D., M. Hassall, R. Boar, R. and O. Nasirwa. 2003a.
Effects of habitat degradation on avian guilds in East African papyrus
Cyperus papyrus L. swamps. Bird Conservation International, 13:
Maclean, I.M.D., R. Tinch, M. Hassall and R.R. Boar, R.R. 2003b.
Social and economic use of wetland resources: a case study from Lake
Bunyonyi, Uganda. Environmental Change and Management Working Paper
No. 2003-09, Centre for Social and Economic Research into the Global
Environment, University of East Anglia, Norwich.
Maclean, I.M.D., R. Tinch, M. Hassall and R.R. Boar. 2003c. Towards
optimal use of tropical wetlands: an economic evaluation of goods
derived from papyrus swamps in southwest Uganda. Environmental Change
and Management Working Paper No. 2003-10, Centre for Social and
Economic Research into the Global Environment, University of East
Messenger Dally. 1908 How papyrus defeated South Sydney and assisted
in making Eastern Suburbs great
Muthuri, F. M., M. B. Jones, and S.K. Imbamba. 1989. Primary
productivity of papyrus (
Cyperus papyrus) in a tropical swamp - Lake
Naivasha, Kenya, Biomass, 18: 1 - 14.
Muthuri, F. M. and M. B. Jones. 1997. Nutrient distribution in a
papyrus swamp: Lake Naivasha, Kenya. Aquatic Botany, 56: 35–50.
Owino, A. O. and P. G. Ryan. 2006. Habitat associations of papyrus
specialist birds at three papyrus swamps in western Kenya. African
Journal of Ecology 44: 438-443.
Thompson, K. 1976. Swamp development in the head waters of the White
Nile. In (ed.J. Rzoska) ‘‘The Nile. Biology of an Ancient
River.’’Monographiae Biologicae, 29. Dr.W. Junk b.v., The Hague.
Thompson, K., P.R. Shewry & H.W. Woolhouse. 1979.
development in the Upemba Basin, Zaire: Studies of population
Cyperus papyrus stands. Botanical Journal of the Linn.
Soc. 78: 299-316.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Cyperus papyrus factsheet
University of Connecticut Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Dressler, S.; Schmidt, M. & Zizka, G. (2014). "
Cyperus papyrus ".
African plants – a Photo Guide. Frankfurt/Main: Forschungsinstitut
Plant List: kew-237889