King Tut papyrus reigns supreme for garden texture

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If you want to add some unbeatable texture to your garden this year, then try King Tut papyrus. It has been around for a half-dozen years now and is still one plant that customers will fight over at the local garden center. One of the reasons they fight over it is that there is never enough to meet demand.

At the Columbus (Ga.) Botanical Garden we use both the King Tut papyrus and Cyperus papyrus from Egypt and the umbrella palm, Cyperus involucratus, which is a close relative from Madagascar. If you remember your elementary history, this plant was used for making papyrus sheets for writing. Our word "paper" comes from "papyrus."

Cyperus species normally are projected to be zone 9 plants, dying to the ground and returning almost always in 8, and many times even in zone 7. Even if you bought a gallon or two every year and treated them as annuals, their unique texture would make them worth every penny.

The King Tut is a dwarf variety in some aspects, reaching only 4 feet although it is not uncommon to see them top out at 6 feet. They gracefully arch over and give a tufted or hairy appearance with their umbrellas. We have some grown in combination with the Red Abyssinian banana and others with a windmill palm.

Our umbrella palms reach 5 to 6 feet tall and flank one side of our raised brick herb beds. Both the King Tut and the umbrella palm have reed-like stems, giving the landscape a lush, tropical feel.

Both of these thrive in full sun to part shade, sloppy wet or simply fertile soil. They perform beyond expectations no matter where they are planted. Tight, heavy clay keeps them from reaching their true potential, but somehow they still look acceptable. Well-drained soil and mulch increases your chances of a spring return in zones 7 and 8.

They grow rapidly. Plant a 1-gallon container now or after your last freeze and before fall's first frost, and it will look as though you used a 10-gallon specimen. Once the plant has frozen, remove the dead foliage, add a little mulch and wait for a spring return.

Both the King Tut papyrus and umbrella palm are well suited for water or bog gardens. If you are growing it in a water garden, try growing them in a sunken container. This will manage any unwanted spread and make it easier for you to move it indoors if you live in a colder region. In addition to bog gardens, try growing them along dry creek beds, letting them create the image that you regularly have flowing water.

In mixed containers you could hardly find a better thriller plant. Because they are green they obviously go with any color scheme you are creating. For a tropical look, use them as understory plantings to tall bananas or in partnership with elephant ears.

The King Tut papyrus are must-have plants whether you want to use them in the landscape or in containers. You key to happiness with them, however, may just lie in being the first one at the garden center when the new shipment arrives. Happy shopping!


Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus, Ga., and author of "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden."


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