This is a decorative waterside plant that can also be used to weave
baskets and sleeping mats or to make rolled twine.
stems (correctly termed culms) are 1 - 3 m tall, and have a tuft
of 10 to 25 long, flat, leaf-like bracts that radiate out like the
spokes of an umbrella from their tips. The stems are long and rounded,
and grow from stolons or rhizomes, forming large clumps. Small,
branched, greenish flowering spikes appear above the leaf-like bracts
in late summer. The true leaves can be found at the base of the
plant, reduced to sheaths which clasp the stem.
Cyperus textilis is found in the southern part of South Africa,
from Piketberg in Western Cape to southern KwaZulu-Natal, where
it grows along river banks and streams, in pools, dams or marshes,
in wet ravines and even in coastal wetlands and brackish estuaries.
Many South African place names like Matjiesfontein, Matjiesrivier,
Matjiesvlei are derived from the presence of these or related plants.
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.
Uses and 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.
Derivation of the name & historical aspects
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 is a cosmopolitan
family 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 C. papyrus, the
famous papyrus of Egypt where it was used to make papyrus rolls
until about 8 AD.
grow C. papyrus in and around some of the ponds at Kirstenbosch,
where it forms handsome clumps. Another species grown at Kirstenbosch
is C. albostriatus, a forest floor dweller found on the eastern
side of South Africa from about Uitenhage to the north of South
Africa. This species is small, reaching only 0.2 to 0.5 m in height,
and has much thinner, more delicate-looking stems than C. textilis,
and prefers to grow in moist, not wet soil. And we also have the
'world's worst weed', C. rotundus, better known as nut grass,
and uintjie or uintjiekweek in Afrikaans, growing
uninvited and hated by us and gardeners everywhere.
Growing Cyperus textilis
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 tender perennial, but it will survive
outdoors where the winter minimum is -7ºC
(USDA zone 9). 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.
Cyperus textilis suffers from no significant insect, fungal
or bacterial diseases.
- ARNOLD, T.H. & DE WET, B.C. (eds). 1993. Plants of southern
Africa: names and distribution. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey
of South Africa No. 62. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- GOLDBLATT, P. & MANNING, J. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus
of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National
Botanical Institute, Pretoria & Missouri Botanical Garden
- JACKSON, W.P.U. 1990. Origins and meanings of names of South
African plant genera. University of Cape Town Printing Department,
- SMITH, C.A. 1966. Common names of South African plants. Memoirs
of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 35. Department
of Agricultural Technical Services, Pretoria.
- VAN WYK, B-E. & GERICKE, N. 2000. People's plants.
Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Christien Malan & Alice Notten
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden