One of the most imposing

One of the most imposing plants in my grow room is a Cyperus Alternifolius, or Umbrella Plant. I’ve been asked by more than one person if I’m growing marijuana in my back room…and those who know something about the subject ask me why aren’t I growing marijuana in my back room…but no, it’s just a houseplant and to my knowledge no one has tried to smoke it. Though it might make a reasonable new-age smudge stick, but I digress.

I bought this plant a few years ago at the wonderful Belgian Nursery on Hwy 7 between Kitchener and Guelph. It was about 18 inches high at the time, and it wasn’t until the plant had a near-death experience that I realized it needs water. A lot of water. It’s an aquatic plant, a close relative of papyrus, and is actually an invasive pest in the swamplands of Florida. Here, it’s strictly a houseplant, though it does enjoy a summer vacation outdoors. Last winter, I repotted it into a large, deep ceramic planter with no drainage hole (see more about this below), and filled it to the brim until the base of the plant was under water. I placed it beside my fluorescent grow light stand in the hall, and a few weeks later, noticed a rather ripe swamp-like smell emanating from the pot. Oops. Deep pot, shallow roots, lots of standing water. Lesson learned: Mix in a generous portion of horticultural charcoal with the soil when you plant this fella to keep things smelling sweet.

The plant wasn’t unhappy in the hall, but not particularly happy either. Old shoots died off as quickly and new ones replaced them. They reached a height of 2 feet, but were spindly and would bend over from the weight of the leaf. I put it outside in the shade last summer, and it perked up a bit. This winter, I acquired a 1000 watt grow light, and decided to move the Umbrella Plant right under it. It woke up in a hurry. The stems fattened up, and grew to 4 feet. Now, none of the old shoots are dying off, and the plant is filling in nicely. Lately, it’s been almost too much of a good thing. It is so thirsty that I have to water it at least once a day. Some of the stems have reached a height of 6 feet, and have shot right up past the light until they touch the ceiling.

Someone told me that the way to propagate this plant is to stick a leaf in the soil. About 3 weeks ago I tried it; I poked a hole in the soil with a pencil, and pushed the stem in far enough that the base of the leaves were touching the soil. I watered as usual, until the cutting was below water. Then I watched and waiting, expecting the leaf to rot.

To my surprise, it worked like a charm. As you can see from the picture (or I hope you can see, tonight was not one of my stellar picture-taking nights), a number of babies are growing up through the dead leaf. Cool.

Note on using ceramic pots for water gardens or fountains:  I learned the hard way — if your ceramic pot is not glazed on all surfaces, especially the bottom, the water will seep through the porous material and ruin whatever surface it rests on. Like my hardwood floor. It’s not easy find a pot like this, so here’s what I did. I went to the hardware store, and bought the kind of paint you use to repaint tubs, sinks, or other kitchen appliances. I applied several coats to the inside of the pot. It works great.