Cyperus alternifolius

Plants of the genus Cyperus are not only very ornamental but have a long history of being useful to Man. There is no need to point out how useful the species C. papyrus was from about 3,000 B. C. when the Egyptians began to make a writing material from its pith. C. esculentus, with its edible tubers, was also important. C. alternifolius, or Umbrella Plant , is native to Madagascar and the neighbouring islands, where it often forms impenetrable growths on the shores of lakes and water courses. It has now become a common household plant. In cultivation it reaches a height of 50-100 cm (20-39 in) and forms dense clumps. The leaves, 25 cm (9 in) long and 1 cm (0.5 in) wide, grow at the ends of triangular stems, a typical characteristic of the Cyperaceae family.

It is very well suited to growing in a paludarium. If it is grown in a pot, this must be placed in a dish of water. The Umbrella Plant withstands high temperatures – as high as 30° C (86° F) in summer – but also grows well at normal room temperatures. A popular growing medium is a mixture of frame soil, compost and sand. It requires a light position for good growth. Propagate by dividing clumps. Alternatively, if you want to keep thick clumps, cut off a rosette of leaves with a stem 1 cm (0.5 in) long and put it in water to root. Cutting off part of the leaf blades to shorten them by as much as two thirds is recommended.

Cyperus diffusus

This species is about 90 cm (35 in) high with basal leaves almost the same length but only 5-15 mm wide and rough-margined. The leaves at the end of each stem, numbering 6-12, are up to 30 cm (12 inch) long and about 1 cm (0.5 in) wide. It grows best in a greenhouse, but it also does well as a house plant in a container with wet compost standing in a dish constantly filled with water. It may also be cultivated in an aquarium or paludarium. A nourishing compost is essential. It is readily propagated by tip cuttings, like C. alternifolius . Put them in water or wet sand. Then plant in pots as soon as they form roots. Propagation from seed is a very lengthy and time-consuming job.

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