Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Cyperus papyrus



Cyperus papyrus (papyrus)


  • Last modified
  • 22 November 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Cyperus papyrus
  • Preferred Common Name
  • papyrus
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Cyperus papyrus is a fast-growing perennial sedge native to central Africa and the Nile Valley, and has been introduced, often as an ornamental species, to other warm parts of the world. It can form dense and extensive wetland stands and...

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Cyperus papyrus (papyrus); habit.
CaptionCyperus papyrus (papyrus); habit.
Copyright©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand
Cyperus papyrus (papyrus); habit.
HabitCyperus papyrus (papyrus); habit.©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand
Cyperus papyrus (papyrus); habit.
CaptionCyperus papyrus (papyrus); habit.
Copyright©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand
Cyperus papyrus (papyrus); habit.
HabitCyperus papyrus (papyrus); habit.©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand
Cyperus papyrus (papyrus); habit.
CaptionCyperus papyrus (papyrus); habit.
Copyright©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand
Cyperus papyrus (papyrus); habit.
HabitCyperus papyrus (papyrus); habit.©Trevor James/Hamilton, New Zealand


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Cyperus papyrus L.

Preferred Common Name

  • papyrus

Other Scientific Names

  • Chlorocyperus papyrus (L.) Rikli
  • Cyperus antiquorum (Willd.) Chiov.
  • Cyperus elapsus Chiov.
  • Cyperus panormitanus Chiov.
  • Cyperus papyraceus Crantz
  • Cyperus siculus Chiov.
  • Cyperus syriacus Parl.
  • Papyrus antiquorum Willd.
  • Papyrus domesticus Poir.
  • Papyrus siculus Parl.

International Common Names

  • English: Egyptian paper plant; paperreed
  • Spanish: papiro; papiro del Nilo
  • French: jonc du Nil; papier du Nil; souchet à papier
  • Arabic: bardi

Local Common Names

  • Egypt: tjufy
  • Germany: Papyrus- Zypergras; Papyrusstaude
  • Israel: gomeh
  • Italy: papiro
  • Kenya: mafunjo; njaanjaa
  • Madagascar: hisatra
  • Portugal: papiro
  • South Africa: papirus
  • Tanzania: lifwama; matere
  • USA/Hawaii: kaluha; papulo

EPPO code

  • CYPPA (Cyperus papyrus)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Cyperus papyrus is a fast-growing perennial sedge native to central Africa and the Nile Valley, and has been introduced, often as an ornamental species, to other warm parts of the world. It can form dense and extensive wetland stands and grows either rooted in shallow water or in large, free-floating clumps. In its native environment it has been used for millennia as food for humans and livestock, as a source of herbal medicines and perhaps most importantly as the source material for the making of paper (papyrus), cordage, ropes, boats, matting, mattresses, cushions, roofing and flooring. More recently it has been seen as a potential source of material for biofuel, as an effective natural biofilter for aquatic pollutants, and has been recognised for its contribution to ecosystem functions and services. However, where it has been introduced outside of its native range it is commonly regarded as a serious invasive threat to native species and ecosystems, and it can also impede the flow of waterways. If climate warming proceeds as expected its range and problematic nature could expand considerably.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Cyperales
  •                         Family: Cyperaceae
  •                             Genus: Cyperus
  •                                 Species: Cyperus papyrus

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Both Cyperus and Cyperus papyrus were published in the first edition of Linnaeus’s Species Plantarum, but Linnaeus did not include a description of the species until his second edition (Rooney, 2013). Later authors have at different times named other, closely-related species and several subspecies of C. papyrus, although Kükenthal (1936, quoted in Rooney, 2013) recombined these species and most of the subspecies back into C. papyrus. Although the Plant List (2013) accepts the subspecies madagascariensis (Willd.) Kük., nyassicus (Chiov.) Kük. and zairensis (Chiov.) Kük., it records confidence in its treatment of the infraspecies as ‘low’. Further research into the taxonomy of the species is clearly needed.


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C. papyrus is a large, emergent, aquatic perennial, producing short rhizomes covered in thick, black scales. The roots are tough, extending 1 m or more in suitable substrate. Rootlets are numerous. Culms are erect, up to 5(-9) m tall, 5-6 cm or more (15 cm or more; Ludwig Triest, personal observation, 2015) across at the base (widest point), smooth, trigonous (angles very rounded, particularly on lower parts) and green (photosynthetic), spreading when old. The pith is solid, white-light brown; vascular bundles prominent. Leaves are reduced, sheathing and restricted to the basal 50 cm or so of the culms. They are tough, reddish-blackish brown when young, expanding with age, the coloration restricted to lateral edges sub-marginally; margins scarious, becoming papery. Colours fade and sheaths split ventrally with age. 

The inflorescence is large, (30-)50(-60) cm in diameter, compound, umbel-like, hemispherical when young, becoming sub-globose with age. Some inflorescences are smaller, entirely sterile or minutely fertile. Bracts are variable, 10-15(-17) cm long, (10-)12-25 mm wide at base, broadly triangular to triangular-attenuate, reddish dorsally in bud, becoming green then papery and brown with age; patent to slightly recurved. There are 50-150, sub-equal, smooth, green rays (branches), (15-)20-30(-35) cm long, (2-)3-4(-5) mm wide, trigonous to triquetrous apically, flexible, with basal sheathing. Prophylls are dark brown tipped, red-veined and 2-2.5 cm long.

Spikes are terminal on rays, in small umbel-like clusters (1-)3(-4), length 2–3 cm, elongate-cylindrical; subtended by 3(-4) bracteoles, (5-)10-15(-16) cm long, thin, wiry, green, trigonous, rough-scabrid in one direction, apex to base. Rachillas are unequal 0-1 cm to first spikelet, winged, with basal, short, sheathing prophylls. Spikelets are arranged spirally, sessile, oblong to oblanceolate, flattened to sub-terete; minute basal bract, 0.3-0.4 cm, lanceolate to sub-ovate; ovate, with basal, semi-sheathing prophyll 0.4-0.6 cm.

Florets are bisexual, arranged distichously, 4–8(-10) in number. Glumes are 1-2 mm, blunt to mucronulate. Scales (rachilla wings) 1 mm, chaff-like, brown, lanceolate, curling on drying. The style is long, with 3 long stigmas protruding and persistent. The ovary is superior and one-celled. There are 3 stamens with fine, elongating filaments; anthers (0.8-1.2 mm) are basifixed, bilocular, caducous, with distinct, red connective tissue, with an apical extension ± 0.1 mm. Nutlets are 3-angled, 0.8-1.3 mm, brownish-black, oblong, sometimes concave ventrally, shortly apiculate, short-lived and translucent (based on Rooney, 2013).

Kew Seed Information Database (2015) says that the 1000-seed weight of C. papyrus is 0.1252 g.

Plant Type

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Grass / sedge
Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated


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Kükenthal (1936, quoted in Rooney, 2013) regarded C. papyrus as introduced to Europe, its centre of origin being the area of the White Nile in Sudan from where it spread west through central Africa and south to Madagascar and Zimbabwe. He gave 13oN and 26oS as the limits of its natural range, encompassing most of sub-Saharan Africa. How far the native range extends west in Africa is unknown, although records exist for Benin and Nigeria (GBIF, 2015). The plant has been so useful to humans for so long that the true limits of its natural range may never be known, as people have probably taken it with them as they have moved from place to place. Although the species had many purposes in Egypt in ancient times, it may now be more or less extinct in that country (Duke, 1983). Papyrus is widespread in the wetlands of southern Africa, including South Africa, although Rooney (2013) says that many claims of its native distribution are disputed and he cites Heath and Heath (2009) in saying it was introduced to the Okavango Delta in Botswana early in the 20th century, though USDA-ARS (2015) list it as native to that country.

The introduced range of C. papyrus now includes countries throughout the world with tropical, subtropical or Mediterranean climates, including Spain and Italy (Sicily), the USA (where it has escaped from cultivation and become naturalized in California, Louisiana, Florida and Hawaii), South America and Australia (Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia) (GBIF, 2015; Queensland Government, 2015; USDA-ARS, 2015; USDA-NRCS, 2015).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Last updated: 17 Feb 2021
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes


Central African RepublicPresentNative
Congo, Democratic Republic of thePresentNative
Congo, Republic of thePresentNative
Côte d'IvoirePresentNative
GhanaPresentIntroducedInvasiveKpong Headpond, Silicon Hotel, Kumasi and Accra; Original citation: deGraft-Johnson and Akpabey (2015)
South AfricaPresentNative
-Zanzibar IslandPresentNative


IndiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
Sri LankaPresentIntroduced



North America

Costa RicaPresentIntroduced
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedInvasiveNaturalized in wet areas of standing water along riverbanks, creeks, swales and roadside ditches; Ciales, Lares and Río Grande.
United StatesPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-HawaiiPresentIntroducedInvasiveNaturalized on Hawaii, Kauai and Oahu


AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-New South WalesPresent, LocalizedIntroducedInvasive
-QueenslandPresent, LocalizedIntroducedInvasive
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroduced
New ZealandPresent, LocalizedIntroducedFound mainly in northern North Island

South America

BrazilPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
ChilePresentIntroducedon Juan Fernandez Islands

History of Introduction and Spread

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Known in ancient Egypt as tjufy (Kamrin, 2015), C. papyrus has been used for paper-making, food, medicine, fibre and shelter for thousands of years (Duke, 1983). Egyptians and their trading partners may well have been responsible for introducing papyrus plants to the Middle East, southern Europe and other parts of Africa. Spread of the species to other continents – North America and Australasia, for example - came much later, as the result of people deliberately transporting plants or seeds for ornamental or potentially useful purposes.

Risk of Introduction

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C. papyrus has already been planted in several warmer countries around the world, particularly for ornamental purposes, and continuing deliberate introductions seem quite likely. Its distribution in most of the countries to which it has been introduced is quite limited, although further spread may occur, especially in the light of climate change and global warming.


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C. papyrus grows in full sun, in wet swamps, freshwater areas of river estuaries and on freshwater lake margins where it is native, and will also persist in similar habitats in subtropical and tropical climates in countries to which it has been introduced. 

Habitat List

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Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Principal habitat Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalWetlands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalWetlands Principal habitat Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalWetlands Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
LittoralMud flats Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
LittoralMud flats Principal habitat Natural
FreshwaterIrrigation channels Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
FreshwaterIrrigation channels Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
FreshwaterLakes Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
FreshwaterLakes Principal habitat Natural
FreshwaterRivers / streams Principal habitat Natural
FreshwaterPonds Principal habitat Natural

Growth Stages

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Seedling stage, Vegetative growing stage

Biology and Ecology

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The chromosome number of C. papyrus is 2n = 102 (Vaughan, 2011). Triest et al. (2013) found that the C. papyrus swamps of Lake Naivasha in Kenya are highly diverse in clones, suggesting that mature stands there all originated through seedling recruitment, apparently from seed rain at short distances. Once formed, mature populations maintain their high levels of diversity by local vegetative growth. Close relationship and infinite gene flow were found between seedlings on the shoreline and the nearest part of the C. papyrus belt. Using microsatellite markers to assess clonal diversity, genetic variation and genetic structure, Terer et al. (2015) revealed strong isolation by distance among C. papyrus populations in the Rift Valley lakes, Lake Victoria and isolated wetlands of Kenya, and the maintenance of relatively high levels of clonal and gene diversity at the species level.

Reproductive Biology

C. papyrus is known to be adapted to normal climatic cycles of drying-flooding and exhibits both sexual reproduction and unlimited clonal propagation. Young floating papyrus mats can detach from the shoreline to be dispersed by wind and wave action; they then may join existing mature stands elsewhere or establish new populations along formerly unoccupied shorelines (Terer et al., 2014).

When Boar (2006) studied the germination of seeds of C. papyrus taken from stands in Lake Naivasha, she found that seeds germinated and seedlings survived best when lake sediment was saturated or the water level was just below the sediment surface. Seeds germinated and seedlings survived poorly in sediment that was drying and seeds did not germinate at all when the sediment was flooded. Observations from field and germination experiments led Boar (2006) to suggest that papyrus seeds germinate quickly in rewetted sediment but that new swamps will only form on shallow gradient shores or when water level is rising slowly enough for seedling growth to keep pace with water level.

Champion and Hofstra (2014) note that in New Zealand C. papyrus probably reproduces only by spread through layering; although seed is occasionally produced its viability has not yet been positively determined. It must, therefore, be dispersed by deliberate planting or garden discards, although some occurrences in very remote situations are difficult to explain if they only originated from garden discards.

Physiology and Phenology

The stems of C. papyrus have a fibrous green outer skin which surrounds a soft white pith composed of parenchyma cells surrounding hollow air ducts and rigid fibrovascular bundles. The air ducts contribute to stem buoyancy and are also involved in CO2 recycling within the plant. A mature papyrus plant consists of stems of different maturity, all arising from the same rhizome. Stems first elongate from this base with their umbel partially closed until they reach full height, at which point the umbel opens fully. Eventually mature stems senesce and die, leaving only a dry broken stump. The time from emergence of a new stem to death of that stem has been measured at 147 days in Lake George (Uganda). The plant normally has no functioning leaves, instead carrying out photosynthesis through the green epidermal layer of culms and sterile umbel inflorescences. The true leaves that accompany the early emergence and extension of new stems senesce under a mature canopy due to lack of light penetration to the plant base. These leaves only serve as photosynthesizing organs during regrowth after cutting or burning of a papyrus stand, or in areas newly colonized by papyrus plants. In southern Africa flowering is in November–March (Vaughan, 2011).

In its native environment, papyrus grows year-round with rapid uptake of nutrients and accumulation of biomass. Dead plants sink to anaerobic layers of the swamp and form a mass of peat which oxidises to release carbon dioxide when the water level falls again (Vaughan, 2011). In cooler countries to which the species has been introduced, although frosts can kill the aerial parts of the plant, in the following spring it will regrow from the base (Archer, 2004).

C. papyrus has C4-photosynthesis, which contributes to its exceptionally high productivity. Growth rates of up to about 40 g/m² dry weight per day have been recorded in natural swamps, resulting in a theoretical annual production of up to 145 t dry matter per ha; however, in a constructed wetland in Uganda the annual production was 240 t per ha. In hydroponic culture short-term growth rates of up to 125 g/m² dry weight per day are possible. In Lake Naivasha the total standing biomass was found to be 78 t dry matter per ha. Of this total biomass, 57% was located in the rhizome, 1% in the roots, 29% in the stems and 13% in the umbels (Vaughan, 2011).

Gaudet (1977b) found that C. papyrus was the most adaptable of the plant species in Lake Naivasha, starting from seed on bare mud in competition with hygrophilous annuals and later growing up in water as a perennial emergent macrophyte. Lake Naivasha, in common with other freshwater lakes in tropical East Africa, shows both seasonal and longer-term fluctuations in water level. Terer et al. (2014) documented seed production, seedling recruitment, zonation progression, and dispersal of seed of C. papyrus in Lake Naivasha. In five umbels they estimated seed numbers to be between 98,000 and 337,000. As the lake dried out, desiccation and cracking of the mudflat soils occurred, along with oxidation and demise of littoral aquatic plants. When the lake water level rose again, distinct zones of young plants of C. papyrus and hygrophilous ephemerals developed. The authors observed C. papyrus seedling densities of between zero in the parent papyrus zone and 186 m-2 in the ‘sedge zone’. When the lake water reached its normal high levels, hygrophilous ephemerals died off while C. papyrus survived.


No reports seem to be available on the longevity of individual plants of papyrus but presumably since they seem to be able to reproduce indefinitely by vegetative means some of the clonal plants now found in permanent lakes and rivers in Africa may be exactly the same plants that were present hundreds of years ago.

Population Size and Structure

Van Dam et al. (2011), quoting Gaudet (1977a), Jones and Muthuri (1997) and Saunders et al. (2007), say that culm densities range from less than 10 to over 22 shoots m-2, leaving little room for other plants, although climbers such as Ipomoea spp. are found growing amongst it.

In most African permanent wetlands C. papyrus is the dominant species. It has been estimated that monotypic and mixed papyrus swamps cover 40,000 km2 in Central and East Africa, although the extent of many local papyrus swamps there has diminished as a result of drainage and infilling for cultivation and construction (Vaughan, 2011). In Lake Naivasha, for example, the area of C. papyrus swamp declined from 45 km2 in 1960 to 6 km2 in 2001 (Hickley et al., 2004). This decline is attributed to water level fluctuations, land clearance and decimation of submerged vegetation by the introduced alien crayfish Procambarus clarkii (Osborne, 2012).

Additional information on clonal structure and the size of C. papyrus clones in Kenya can be found in Terer et al. (2015).


The aerial biomass of C. papyrus shows a positive response to higher nutrient conditions in wetlands receiving domestic wastewater (Kipkemboi et al., 2002).


According to Gaudet (1977b), the species most commonly associated with mature swamps of C. papyrus in East Africa are other species of Cyperus, species of Polygonum, Melanthera scandens subsp. madagascariensis, Ceratophyllumdemersum, Lemnatrisulca, Salviniamolesta and Wolffiaarrhiza.

C. papyrus is the principal species of the sudd communities of Lake Naivasha and elsewhere. The term sudd refers to mats of floating vegetation, first applied to the massive C. papyrus mats that developed in wetlands adjacent to the upper Nile in Sudan. Sudd mats form as rhizomes of C. papyrus and the floating stems of aquatic plants such as Vossia cuspidata and Ludwigia spp. become intertwined. The mat may be further colonized by plants such as Impatiens and Aeschynomene spp., as well as sedges and aquatic grasses (Osborne, 2012).

Zohary (1962) reported on the association of C. papyrus and Polygonum acuminatum [Persicaria acuminata] which used to occupy large stretches of the flooded peat soils of the Huleh swamps in the northern Jordan Rift Valley on the border between Syria and Israel. The swamps were later drained and much of the vegetation destroyed. However, Kaplan et al. (1988) describe the re-flooding of parts of the area in the 1990s and the successful re-colonization with C. papyrus, both spontaneously and through transplants.

Environmental Requirements

Duke (1983) says that C. papyrus requires annual rainfall of 10-420 cm, annual temperatures of 20–30oC and a pH of 6.0–8.5. On the Highveld of South Africa, plants of C. papyrus can apparently tolerate a few degrees of frost. The plants are more or less dormant in winter and as long as the rhizomes are protected from freezing the old culms will be replaced by new ones in the spring (Archer, 2004). Kew Seed Information Database (2015) describes the species as a hydrohalophyte, although the species is exclusively a freshwater species. 


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Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Preferred Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
40 40

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 20 30


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall10420mm; lower/upper limits

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • impeded
  • seasonally waterlogged

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral

Water Tolerances

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ParameterMinimum ValueMaximum ValueTypical ValueStatusLife StageNotes
Water pH (pH) 6.0 8.5 Optimum

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Procambarus clarkii Herbivore Plants|Roots; Plants|Stems not specific

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Although minor insect and other invertebrate pests may attack C. papyrus, there are few records of these. The introduced alien crayfish Procambarus clarkii feeds on submerged parts of the plant in African lakes (Osborne, 2012).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal

Sudd mats as well as young floating papyrus mats can form and be dispersed by wind and wave action; they then may join existing mature stands elsewhere or establish new populations along formerly unoccupied shorelines (Osborne, 2012; Terer et al., 2014, 2015).

Vector Transmission (Biotic)

Most long-distance transport of this species, either as entire plants or as seed, has indubitably been by human activity, although the dispersal of seeds attached to the feet or plumage of water birds is possible and may account for dispersal from one water body to another (Rooney, 2013).

Accidental Introduction

Escape from introduced populations is quite possible, especially if small populations in botanical and domestic gardens are not adequately contained and garden waste is disposed of improperly.

Intentional Introduction

This method of spread is the most likely, both from one country to another and within a country. C. papyrus has been introduced to and is popular as a showy ornamental pond plant in several countries and its further spread in this way is bound to continue.

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Floating vegetation and debris Yes Yes
Water Yes Yes
Wind Yes Yes

Impact Summary

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Economic/livelihood Positive and negative
Environment (generally) Positive and negative

Economic Impact

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Even in some parts of what may be its native range, C. papyrus has been suspected of causing blockage of waterways (Ellery et al., 1995), although it is suggested that encroachment by this sedge was a symptom rather than a cause of the blockages.

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

C. papyrus has potentially serious impacts on environments in countries to which it has been introduced, with its propensity for forming monotypic stands on the margins of lakes and rivers. Floating islands of the species can float downstream and seeds may be spread by water birds to new areas. Such invasions could disturb the ecological balances of wetland environments and displace native species. It is already of concern in Queensland and northern New South Wales in Australia, although it is, as yet, only considered a minor environmental weed. Having escaped from cultivation, it has invaded the margins of permanent water bodies in southeastern Queensland and northern New South Wales, including in the latter case the Seaham Swamp Nature Reserve at Port Stephens on the mid-north coast. It is also a weed of deep water channels in the Warriewood Wetlands and a common weed in the Lakes of Cherrybrook Reserve in suburban northern Sydney. In south-western Western Australia it grows in permanently wet sites and in abandoned parklands. This rapidly growing species can spread to cover areas of open water, preventing other aquatic species from growing, and reducing light levels to submerged native plants (Queensland Government, 2015).

In Hawaii, C. papyrus has been found as an abundant and naturalized alien in several national parks, including the Waimanu National Estuarine Sanctuary on Hawaii (State of Hawaii, 1984), the Nounou Forest Reserve on Kauai (State of Hawaii, 2015) and the Kawai Nui Marsh on Oahu, Hawaii’s largest remaining wetland, covering 335 hectares, and an important habitat for endangered native waterbirds as well as migratory birds; C. papyrus has been identified as invasive here, forming several dense stands (US Army Corps of Engineers, 2008).

In Zambia, where C. papyrus is considered by some as an alien invasive species, it is of concern in the Kafue River flats where it is spreading rapidly, endangering native plant species and the value of the flats as a habitat for birds (Zambian Alien Invasive Species, 2014).

In Mexico, C. papyrus was identified as one of several aquatic weeds which, although not having a wide territorial distribution, had invaded large areas in several aquatic ecosystems (Bonilla-Barbosa, 2013).

Impact on Biodiversity

Little is known of the potential effects of C. papyrus on biodiversity where it has been introduced but its growth form and biology are so different from those of other aquatic plants that it would be bound to have major disruptive effects on native biodiversity. In Australia, it can crowd out other aquatic plants and can reduce light levels reaching submerged native plants (Queensland Government, 2015).

Risk and Impact Factors

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  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Altered trophic level
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Infrastructure damage
  • Modification of hydrology
  • Modification of natural benthic communities
  • Modification of nutrient regime
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts aquaculture/fisheries
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult/costly to control


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Economic Value

Duke (1983) notes that C. papyrus was used in Egypt as early as 2400 BC for food, medicine, fibre and shelter. He quotes Täckholm and Drar (1950) in listing a very comprehensive range of uses to which the species was put in ancient Egypt, including funeral garlands, boats, cordage, fans, sandals, mattings, corkage, boxes and paper. The pith was used as food, while the starchy rhizomes and lower part of the stems were cut off and consumed raw, boiled or roasted. Ironically, C. papyrus is now thought to be extinct in the lower Nile marshes, presumably due to over-harvesting through the millennia.

Zohary (1962) lists C. papyrus as one of the native swamp plants that the Arabs in southern Palestine used as the basis for their wickerwork and mat industries.

Social Benefit

In modern times, Lake Victoria wetlands, whose dominant species is C. papyrus, constitute a vital life support system for about 12 million people who extract fresh water, fish, medicinal plants and building materials (Raburu et al., 2012). Morrison et al. (2012) compiled a long list of the socioeconomic services of papyrus, which included fodder for livestock, use for brooms and decoration, as fuel, for making fish traps, cooking utensils, granaries, walls and furniture, thatch, ropes, hats and boxes, mats, window blinds, celling board, as a herb for cooking and as a medicine for various ailments. However, they and other authors have cast doubts on the sustainability of current practices of utilization by local populations around, for example, Lake Victoria; threats to papyrus swamps include rising human population pressures, drainage of swamps for agriculture, perpetual harvesting, poor management systems, lowering of lake levels by over-extraction of water leading to damage by large mammals, and a changing climate. Kiwango and Wolanski (2008) concluded their study by reporting that the future state of Lake Victoria and the welfare of its human population are highly related to the future of its papyrus wetlands. Methods of conserving this valuable resource for local economies have been proposed. Terer et al. (2012) recommended a harvesting regime that allowed an adequate period for a full cycle of stems from young to senescence, of at least 12 months.

Environmental Services

In its native environment in tropical Africa, C. papyrus swamps are an important habitat supporting a wide diversity of species, notably populations of sitatunga antelope (Tragelaphus spekii), African python (Python sebae), several birds with restricted distributions including the papyrus yellow warbler (Chloropeta glacilirostris), and the papyrus gonolek (Laniarius mufumbiri). The swamps provide breeding and feeding grounds for numerous species of fish, as well as grazing for large herbivores (Mnaya and Wolanski, 2002; Owino and Ryan, 2006; Terer, 2011).

Mwaura and Widdowson (1992) established that nitrogen fixation occurs in the intact root systems of C. papyrus and nitrogen fixation associated with young roots could provide 26% of the nitrogen requirements of growing papyrus plants. This nitrogen fixation was thought to be due to the presence of diazotrophs in the root zone of the papyrus plant.

Apart from major biodiversity and ecological ecosystem services, a wide range of regulatory ecosystem services are provided by C. papyrus swamps, services in relation to water, carbon and nitrogen cycles and buffering capacity for sediment and nutrient loads, as well as a huge range of services in respect of natural products of benefit to communities, including biofuels, drinking water, building materials and flood control (Gichuki et al., 2001; Saunders et al., 2007; Maclean et al., 2011Van Dam et al., 2011). Some modern uses mooted for C. papyrus include as a biofuel and as a part of filtration systems for removing sediments, sewage and heavy metals from polluted water (Gaudet, 2014). Dry matter productivity is very high, especially as it can come from otherwise unused aquatic environments (Rooney, 2013).

Another important role for C. papyrus is the assimilation and sequestration of significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Saunders et al. (2014) estimated that up to 80 t C ha-1 is stored in above- and below-ground components of vegetation and, under flooded conditions, a further 640 t C ha-1 may be stored in detritus and peat deposits. Gichuki et al. (2005) found that carbon derived from papyrus is largely retained in papyrus swamps; additionally high mineralization of organic matter occurs in the swamp, indicating that the retained papyrus-derived carbon is largely respired.

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed


  • Wildlife habitat


  • Biofuels


  • Botanical garden/zoo


  • Baskets
  • Fibre
  • Miscellaneous materials

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
  • Traditional/folklore


  • garden plant

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Several other species of Cyperus are similar to C. papyrus in general appearance but few if any achieve its height (up to 5 m tall). 

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.


The best way to prevent C. papyrus from spreading is to prevent its introduction from other ecosystems, to detect incipient infestation at an early stage and to implement an effective eradication programme before the plant begins to spread to other wetland areas. In the case of Zambia, for example, it is recognised that there is a need to regulate, restrict, limit or prohibit the importation of a variety or class of seeds suspected of being from a weed, like papyrus. This is provided for by the Plant Variety and Seed Act, 1970, in the Laws of Zambia (Zambian Alien Invasive Species, 2014).

Physical/Mechanical Control

According to Zambian Alien Invasive Species (2014), cutting and raking of the cut materials can be an ideal method of dealing with the nuisance of papyrus, and this can either be done with sickles or specialized and powered mechanical cutters. The material thus cut can then be removed, hand raked, drag-lined or removed with motor driven elevators. The cut materials can serve as fodder for pigs and rabbits.

In Kisumu in Kenya in the late 1960s, floating rafts of C. papyrus would sometimes be piled up by wind and waves around the dock area and, so the story went, they were cleared by prisoners from the local jail in spite of the rafts being infested with snakes (Ian Popay, personal observation, 2014).

Biological Control

Zambian Alien Invasive Species (2014) claims that “biological control of papyrus can be achieved by the production of toxin from a novel fungal isolate. The novel isolate, Dactylaria higginsii [Pseudopyricularia higginsii], can be grown, and the toxins recovered by the techniques which are well known to those skilled in the art. The fungus can be used to directly and specifically deliver its phytotoxin composition to papyrus. This is delivered to the plant by applying an effective amount of the biologically-active fungus directly to the plant. The fungus produces sufficient quantities of a phytotoxin compound to inhibit the growth, or actually induce mortality of papyrus. The growth of the fungus can also mechanically disrupt nutrient transport in the vascular system of the plant.” This material has been developed as a bioherbicide for the control of weedy sedges like purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus) (Kadir and Charudattan, 2000) but there seems to be no confirmed evidence of its effectiveness on C. papyrus.

Chemical Control

According to Zambian Alien Invasive Species (2014), herbicides which show success in the control of C. papyrus include glyphosate and soil fumigants; the success or failure of herbicide treatments depends on the growth stage of the plant at the time of application, soil moisture and temperature.

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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Further research into the taxonomy of C. papyrus is clearly needed.


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Distribution References

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CABI, Undated. Compendium record. Wallingford, UK: CABI

CABI, Undated a. CABI Compendium: Status inferred from regional distribution. Wallingford, UK: CABI

CABI, Undated b. CABI Compendium: Status as determined by CABI editor. Wallingford, UK: CABI

Champion P, Hofstra D, 2014. Cyperus papyrus. In: New Zealand Plant Conservation Network,

Ernest A, 2015. Diversity, distribution and control of aquatic macrophytes of southern Ghana with particular reference to the alien invasives. MPhil Thesis., Legon, Ghana: University of Ghana.

GBIF, 2015. Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

Heath R, Heath A, 2009. Field guide to the plants of Northern Botswana including the Okavango Delta. [ed. by Goyder D J]. Richmond, UK: Royal Botanic Gardens. vi + 593 pp.

Queensland Government, 2015. Weeds of Australia, Biosecurity Queensland edition., Queensland, Australia:

Rooney P, 2013. Cyperus papyrus L. infraspecies. A pilot monographic study of the infraspecies of Cyperus papyrus L., prepared in fulfilment of an assessment for the MSc. In: Plant Diversity at Reading University, 2012-2013, Reading, UK: Reading University.

USDA-ARS, 2015. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. Beltsville, Maryland, USA: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory.

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Zambian Alien Invasive Species, 2014. Cyperus papyrus., Environmental Council of Zambia.


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09/04/2014   Original text by:

Ian Popay, Consultant, New Zealand

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