How to Plant, Grow, and Care for ‘King Tut’ Grass

‘King Tut’ grass is a unique tropical plant with a storied history. These plants are striking additions to annual planters, bog gardens, and indoors as houseplants. In this article, garden expert Christina Conner outlines how to care for these beautiful plants.

Close-up of king tut grass with tall, slender, dark green stems topped with numerous umbrella-like clusters of fine-textured, thread-like leaves in a large container with various Coleus species.

Contents

‘King Tut’ grass is nicknamed the “umbrella plant” for its long stalks (called culms) topped with umbellates resembling umbrellas. It’s a dwarf variety of the Cyperus papyrus species, commonly known as papyrus. That’s right – the same papyrus as the paper.

The straight species grows very tall, so this cultivar is most popular for the ornamental garden, which has a maximum height of six feet. This striking tropical species is common in bog gardens or ponds. Some cultivars may even be kept as houseplants. An added bonus for the at-home florist: their tall umbellate culms look fabulous in cut flower arrangements. 

Cyperus papyrus ‘King Tut’ is a trademarked species developed by Proven Winners for their Graceful Grasses series.  Though it looks much like it, botanically, it’s not considered a grass but is a sedge, a group of grass-like plants. Similar cultivars and species include Cyperus haspan, Cyperus alternifolius, Cyperus isocladus, Cyperus papyrus ‘Dwarf Papyrus,’ and ‘Nanus.’ 

‘King Tut’ Grass Overview

'King Tut' Cyperus papyrus close-up, showcases fluffy tufts of slender, pendulous, greenish-yellow leaves.
Plant Type Aquatic perennial
Family Cyperaceae
Genus Cyperus
Species papyrus
Native Area Africa, the Mediterranean
Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Height 4-6 feet
Watering Requirements High
Pests & Diseases Rust, gnats, no serious issues
Maintenance Minimal to none
Soil Type Loam, chalk, clay, sand
Hardiness Zone USDA 10-11

What Is It? 

The stems of Cyperus papyrus 'King Tut' are tall and dark green, topped with cascading, feathery tufts of thin, green leaves.
Papyrus connects us to fascinating ancient Egyptian heritage.

Today, most Papyrus species on the market are sold as ornamentals. But papyrus has a rich history of use in medicine, boatbuilding, clothing, and, most notably, being used as paper. Nearly 5,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians used this plant to create written records. 

Papyrus was central to ancient Egyptian mythology and their belief in the creation of the universe. The Egyptians recognized the fertility of papyrus marshes, and their importance was depicted in their artwork and architecture. In the Egyptian myth of the goddess Isis and her son Horus, papyrus thickets protected him from his murderous uncle, Osiris. As a history nerd, seeing my papyrus plant is a reminder of its ancient origins. 

Characteristics

'King Tut' Cyperus papyrus has robust, dark green stems that support dense, feathery clusters of long, greenish-yellow leaves.
Known for its striking foliage, ‘King Tut’ captivates with elegance.

Like other members of the Cyperus family, it has tall triangular stems topped with tufts of umbellate foliage. It does flower with small, brownish-green flowers and eventually produces small nut-like fruits. That said, their green foliage is the main attraction. 

They’ve been cultivated for ornamental use and grow two to four feet tall. In its native zones in Africa along the Nile River and in the Mediterranean, the species grows up to 16 feet tall. 

Native Area

Cyperus papyrus 'King Tut' against the background of a pond with water lilies, displays tall, robust stems in dark green, adorned with cascading clusters of fine, thread-like green leaves.
Originating in Africa, Cyperus papyrus has spread worldwide for cultivation.

Native to Africa, this decorative grass originated along the streambanks of the White Nile in Sudan. It was grown en masse for cultivation in the Nile Delta of Egypt. It was so useful that it was introduced to regions across the world: the Middle East, Southern Africa, Europe, and later, North America and Australasia. Today, it grows in African swamps, shallow lakes, and stream banks. 

This sedge is invasive and outcompetes native aquatic plants in sensitive waterways. In California, Florida, Louisiana, and Hawaii, please avoid growing it and its associated cultivars, as it is classed as an invasive species there.

Planting

Close-up of a freshly planted Cyperus papyrus plant with umbrella-shaped thin green leaves in moist black soil in the garden.
Thriving in diverse conditions, this tall sedge makes a bold impact.

Only perennial in warm climates, this sedge is an annual in outdoor plantings or as a houseplant. Adaptable to full sun or partial shade, the only requirement is ample water. Grow in containers, in the ground, or even in water.

‘King Tut’ works as a thriller alongside vining and mid-height annuals. It can grow up to four feet tall, so keep it in the back or in the center of flower beds and containers Even on its own or in groups, it’s a statement maker. 

Transplanting

Close-up of young Cyperus papyrus seedlings with thin, long, grass-like leaves in a blue square container.
Tease roots and space individual seedlings three to four feet apart for growth.

Your new papyrus sedge will likely be potbound and need to have its roots worked out of its grower’s pot. Tease their roots and use a hori hori to gently score the sides of the plant if the roots are circling around the pot. Then, repot into a larger container or in the ground. If you’re growing multiple plants, space them three to four feet apart. This may seem like a lot for small plants, but they’ll grow!  

How to Grow

This is an exceptionally easy ornamental to grow when its water and temperature requirements are met. It certainly prefers being grown outdoors, but you can overwinter it indoors in a bright, sunny spot. 

Light

'King Tut' Cyperus papyrus in full sun, stands tall with thick, dark green stems topped by abundant, cascading tufts of slender, green-yellow leaves.
This sedge thrives in full sun with moist soil protection.

‘King Tut’ handles full sun to partial shade and is more tolerant of shade than the straight species. If in partial shade, it should receive morning sun with afternoon shade. If in full sun, it’s vital to keep the soil moist to prevent ]it from burning under harsh afternoon sunlight. 

Water

In a beautiful garden, Cyperus papyrus plants thrive in a small pond, surrounded by stone containers holding creeping burhead plants.
Cyperus papyrus thrives in wet conditions and is ideal for pondside planting.

A thirsty plant native to streambanks, it does best in boggy conditions. The more sun this it has, the greater its water requirements. In partial sun, it’s more forgiving to occasional dryness. This is perfect as a pond plant as long as the crown is kept above the surface. 

It’s so thirsty that drainage holes aren’t necessary. This is a great plant for repurposing vessels or using pots without drainage holes. Due to its ability to rapidly spread, growing in containers is most likely favorable for most gardens.

Soil

Close-up of a gardener in black gloves with a hoe preparing the soil for planting seedlings in a sunny garden.
Provide fertile, organic-rich soil to support optimal plant growth.

Beyond being wet, this soil is adaptable to most soil types. The soil should also be fertile and rich in organic matter, similar to what would be found in its native habitat. Try adding manure or compost to your soil.

Building your soil doesn’t need to be costly, either. There are plenty of free ways to improve soil health! 

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Temperature and Humidity

The robust, dark green stems of Cyperus papyrus 'King Tut' bear striking, umbrella-like arrangements of long, thin, greenish-yellow leaves.
Ornamental Cyperus species thrive in warm climates with careful overwintering.

Ornamental Cyperus species need warm temperatures to thrive, so this plant is only perennial in USDA zones 10-11, where temperatures never drop below 40°F (4°C).

Use their native tropical habitat as a guide for how to keep this plant. They thrive in hot, humid tropical conditions. If you don’t live in the tropics, you can easily overwinter this plant.

Fertilizing

Close-up of a female gardener wearing yellow gloves pouring liquid fertilizer from a white bottle into a large green watering can in the garden.
Keep Cyperus papyrus healthy with occasional balanced organic fertilizer applications.

This plant isn’t a heavy feeder, but an occasional dose of fertilizer keeps this sedge happy and healthy. In an aquatic setting, an aquatic plant fertilizer gives the plant a boost. In the ground or in containers, balanced or nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion provides the plant and those surrounding it with much-needed nutrients. 

Maintenance

Cyperus papyrus 'King Tut' features sturdy, dark green stems with feathery clusters of slender, pendulous green leaves.
This fast-growing plant needs occasional pruning and fertilizing.

Cyperus papyrus is a fast and somewhat aggressive grower and quickly becomes potbound. To keep the plant healthy, bump it up to a larger pot or divide it. As the culms (the plant’s stems) age, they turn brown and die. Cut these down to the rhizome. 

Besides occasional pruning and fertilization, it doesn’t require much upkeep. Overall, it’s a pretty low-maintenance plant. 

Propagation

The pile of cut stems of Papyrus plants appears as a collection of tall, slender, hollow stems with a triangular cross-section and a faded green color.
Propagating ‘King Tut’ grass is prohibited due to trademark.

Propagating Cyperus papyrus ‘King Tut’ is illegal because the plant is trademarked by Proven Winners. Therefore, grow it and enjoy it, but don’t propagate it.

Cyperus papyrus ‘Prince Tut’

Cyperus papyrus 'Prince Tut' features slender, dark green stems topped with smaller, feathery tufts of greenish-yellow leaves.
Fluffy ‘Prince Tut’ is a compact variety ideal for smaller spaces.

Another variety developed by Proven Winners, ‘Prince Tut’ is about half the size of  ‘King Tut.’ This plant only grows to two to three feet tall and is sturdier and stockier. It has the same growth requirements as its older brother but is a more compact plant. 

Cyperus prolifer ‘Queen Tut’

Cyperus prolifer 'Queen Tut' exhibits tall, dark green stems with dense clusters of thin, pendulous green leaves.
Striking ‘Queen Tut’ is a compact, hardy papyrus, ideal for tropical climates.

Also in the Proven Winners’ Graceful Grasses series is ‘Queen Tut’, the smallest papyrus species in the series, along with ‘Baby Tut.’ This variety is hardy to USDA zone 9 and tops out at just two feet tall. Unlike ‘King Tut,’ this plant dislikes overwintering indoors, so it’s best as an annual or perennial in tropical climates. 

Cyperus alternifolius ‘Baby Tut’

Cyperus alternifolius 'Baby Tut' displays compact, dark green stems with small, dense clusters of delicate green leaves.
Umbrella grass filters pollutants and thrives as a houseplant.

Known as umbrella grass or umbrella palm, this plant grows up to two feet. It has glossier leaves and the same umbrella shape as ‘King Tut.’ One other cool part about this plant is that it filters pollutants like copper and manganese from soil. 

Common Problems

They’re invasive in warm climates and have escaped cultivation in Florida, California, Louisiana, and Hawaii, leading to waterway damage. Take care to contain this plant in tropical climates. They’re not prone to disease but are very sensitive to cold temperatures – these plants should never experience temperatures below 40°F (4°C). 

Pests

Close-up of fungus gnat on a thin green leaf, representing a small, delicate insect with slender, grayish-black body, long legs, and distinctive transparent wings.
Control fungus gnats with hydrogen peroxide or neem oil treatments.

There aren’t many pests that favor Cyperus plants, but wet soil may promote the presence of fungus gnats. These insects are annoying but not harmful to plants. Treat these pests with hydrogen peroxide or neem oil

Diseases

A Cyperus leaf affected by rust fungus appears with orange to rust-colored pustules on its surface.
Prevent rust fungus by keeping leaves dry and removing affected culms.

This sedge isn’t susceptible to many diseases, but some gardeners have noticed rust fungus on their plants. Keeping their leaves dry is a good way to prevent this fungus. Cut off and dispose of any culms with discoloration to prevent spread. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is ‘King Tut’ grass safe for pets? 

Cyperus papyrus is non-toxic for both cats and dogs. Their starchy rhizomes are even edible for humans.

How do you overwinter ‘King Tut’ grass?

If you don’t live in a tropical zone, don’t worry! It can be grown in containers and overwintered indoors, where it will survive (but not thrive) until next summer. If planted in-ground, dig up their rhizomes and move them indoors until temperatures are reliably warm again. Place your plant on a tray of pebbles and water to increase the humidity a bit more.

Why is my ‘King Tut’ grass turning yellow?

Browning stems are a normal part of the aging process, but if you’re noticing a lot of yellowing culms, there could be a few issues. The first is that the soil may npot be getting enough water. Another possibility is that there aren’t enough nutrients in the soil. While Cyperus papyrus isn’t a heavy feeder, yellowing culms indicate a nutrient deficiency, so give your plant a dose of fertilizer. Cut off any unhealthy culms to promote new growth.

Final Thoughts

Cyperus papyrus or one of its relatives, Cyperus prolifer or Cyperus alternifolius are fun, unusual plants that add visual interest to summer plantings. Ornamental Cyperus species are excellent choices for poorly drained, wet areas in the garden, rain gardens, or in ponds. Another thing I love about this plant is its ease of care! With enough water and sunlight, this ancient plant is sure to make a splash in your garden this summer. 

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A close up image of a plant growing on the water. Blooming with a flower that has pink petals and some white on the interior of the flower. The stamen in the middle is yellow.

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