Papyrus Prolonged

Last spring I bought a 10-inch pot of Papyrus, not quite knowing what I would do with it. I already knew it wouldn’t survive in the shade where we have our fountain. How silly would THAT have looked, anyway?

I had kept an umbrella Cyperus (C. alternifolius) in my sunny apartment when I was still in college. It was easy to care for (just add water) and was unusual enough for me to want to include it in my collection of 150 (really!) houseplants.

The Papyrus (C. papyrus) was quite a bit more weird-looking, but I had always wanted one. I also knew that it was zone 9 or 10 and would not survive the winter outdoors. Oh well, it was a great bargain at just 10 bucks!

I’m never sure what Dan’s reaction is going to be when I bring home a new plant. “Oh wow,” he said, “it looks like something from outer space. I love it!” When I explained the plant’s cultural needs and why it couldn’t go in the spot where we actually HAD water, his recommendation was to set it next to “those other alien-looking things” (Ligularia), to see how it did. The Ligularia are in a bog garden, which allows them to tolerate quite a bit more sun than you would expect. The bog needs occasional help from a hose during very dry periods, so it would be easy enough to just turn the hose a little to the right to hit the Papyrus at the same time.

By summer, the Papyrus had stretched up to five feet and was making new shoots and flowers like crazy. It was too late to try another spot; Papyrus was happy where it was. I convinced myself that, after all Dan’s under-construction drainage ditch looked kind of like a dry stream bed, so it made sense to have a water plant there. And, the Ligularia did need some sort of vertical accent until its own, other-worldly flower pods began to emerge.

In October I was starting to panic. Hard frost time was approaching and I had grown very fond of Papyrus. By November, I knew it was do or die (the freeze was late) and I decided that, if Papyrus could fit into the house, I would take heroic measures to overwinter him. At six-feet, six inches, it was a close call through the doorway, but there’s even a little growing room left before he tops out at the eight-foot ceiling. I had no idea what to do next.

Call it coincidence, serendipity, or synchronicity, but by chance I sat down next to Fran Lawn, Director of Land Restoration at Schuykill Center for Environmental Education, at a seminar. He overheard me talking to someone else about overwintering my Papyrus and volunteered that it could be held over in a Chinese koi pot and that, if its root ball were too large, all of the soil could be removed, the roots could be weighted down with stones, and submerged in water. The main thing was to keep the roots wet.

As luck would have it, I was able to find a lovely copper cache pot that was just the right size and I didn’t have to disturb Papyrus at all. It’s a good thing, too. Since he came inside, a two-foot bud has opened and grown to four feet and there are three new shoots coming along.

I should know better, but by now, Papyrus has become more like a pet than a plant. I check his progress every day and, if I think he’s not getting enough light, walk him around the room from place to place, to follow the sun. If all goes well, I should be able to roll him out into the yard next spring.

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