Cyperus textilis (Umbrella Sedge)
Plant image

A beautiful, fast-growing, clump-forming plant that does extremely well in marshy environments, although it can handle fairly long periods of drought.

Name & classification

Botanical name:
Cyperus textilis

Common names:
Umbrella Sedge, Mat Sedge, Basket Grass, Rushes, Emezi grass (English); Matjiesgoed, Kooigoed (Afrikaans); imisi (Xhosa)

Plant family:
Cyperaceae

Plant categories:
Herbaceous Perennials; Bulbs, Corms, Rhizomes or Tubers


Name derivation & history:
The genus name Cyperus is from the Latin 'cuperos' or the Greek 'kypeiros', both meaning sedge or rush.

The species name textilis is also Latin meaning to weave, or plait together or to construct with elaborate care.

The sedge family consists of grass-like herbs usually found in moist habitats. More than 550 Cyperus species grow all over the world, with over 80 species in southern Africa. The largest species is Cyperus papyrus, the famous papyrus of Egypt where it was used to make papyrus rolls until about 8 AD.

Pictures

Features

Leaf habit:
Evergreen

Height:
1 to 3 metres

Plant shape:
The culms (stems) grow from stolons or rhizomes, forming large clumps

Leaf description:
Each culm (stem) has a tuft of 10 to 25 long, flat, leaf-like bracts that radiate outwards like the spokes of an umbrella from their tips. These are not true leaves, which can be found at the base of the plant, reduced to sheaths which clasp the stem.

Flower description:
Small, branched, greenish flowering spikes appear above the leaf-like bracts in late summer.

Flower colour:
Greenish

Bark or stem description:
The rounded stems (correctly termed culms) are are normally around 1 metre tall, but in the right conditions can reach 3 metres.

Other distinctive features:
The culms (stems) grow from stolons or rhizomes, forming large clumps.

Habitat

Natural distribution:
Cyperus textilis is found in the southern part of South Africa, from Piketberg in Western Cape to southern KwaZulu-Natal.

Many South African place names like Matjiesfontein, Matjiesrivier, Matjiesvlei are derived from the presence of these or related plants.

Habitat:
Umbrella sedge grows along river banks and streams, in pools, dams or marshes, in wet ravines and even in coastal wetlands and brackish estuaries.

Water requirements:
Little water required, but does best with plenty of summer water

Frost tolerance:
Hardy

Cold tolerance (°C):
-7

Light conditions:
Sun; semi-shade; shade

Other Characteristics

Drought resistant
Resistant to water-logging
Disease resistant
Pest resistant
Suitable for cut flowers
Suitable for growing in containers
Low maintenance

Edibility & Toxicity

We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is edible
We have no confirmation that any part of this plant is toxic, however we urge caution as this information may be incorrect.

Ecology

Interaction with physical surroundings:
Cyperus textilis plants resprout after frost or periodic droughts, in fact, a population can exist for centuries in the same place, sending up new culms whenever there is enough moisture. Their tiny seeds are probably distributed in mud carried by nomadic waterfowl.

Reed beds consisting of reeds, bulrushes and sedges like Cyperus textilis are used all over the world to clean polluted water and factory effluents. The plants take up the excess nitrogen and phosphates from treated sewage, and have also proved effective in removing heavy metals and phenolic compounds from waste water.

Many birds, like finches and weavers, build their nests in Cyperus textilis clumps, and the plants provide shelter for fish larvae, baby crocodiles and various kinds of snakes that live near water.

Elephants and hippo often graze the plants to a short turf where it grows on the edges of waterholes and rivers.
Attracts birds
Attracts mammals
Attracts frogs

Other information

Uses & Cultural aspects:
The culms of Cyperus textilis and other species of Cyperus are used to make baskets, sleeping mats, rolled twine and other woven articles. It is also used in the building of traditional huts, particularly by the Khoi who used it to weave the mats that were used to cover the huts as well as to make a very serviceable rope to tie the poles used to make the dome-shaped framework together. The rope has also been used for binding thatch.

Cultivation:
This is a popular garden plant and it grows easily in good garden soil in sun or shade. In bright sun the clumps will be more compact and the stems more closely packed, whereas in the shade the plants will grow taller with fewer stems giving a more graceful effect.

It is quite happy growing in shallow water, or waterlogged soil but is equally happy in normal garden soil. It does well in containers or water features, and is a useful plant for waterlogged soil and heavy clay soils.

This is a hardy perennial that will survive outdoors where the winter minimum is -7ºC. Frost will kill the foliage but the plant will resprout in spring provided the roots were not frozen.

Use Cyperus textilis as an accent plant on the banks of ponds, lakes, streams and rivers. In a container it can be used to beautiful effect in a water feature or fish pond. It also makes an interesting addition to the sunny or shady border and is invaluable in a permanently or seasonally wet or boggy area of the garden.

Propagation is easiest by division of the clumps. When dividing a clump, it is best to keep the younger growth from the outside edges and discard the old growth at the centre. Cyperus can also be propagated by seed or by cuttings. Cuttings are made from the top 50 mm or so of a stem, including the 'umbrella'. Some of the leaf-like bracts can be removed to reduce water loss, and the cutting placed in a shallow tray of water or in moist sand. Young plants should arise from the centre of the 'umbrella' and once they have developed roots, they can be removed and potted up.

Pests & diseases:
Cyperus textilis suffers from no significant insect, fungal or bacterial diseases.

References:
South African National Biodiversity Institute, South Africa.

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