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Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus)


Click on the "Nutritional aspects" tab for recommendations for ruminants, pigs, poultry, rabbits, horses, fish and crustaceans
Common names 

Papyrus, papyrus sedge, bulrush, coco-grass, Indian matting plant, Nile grass, Egyptian paper-reed, paper reed [English]; herbe-à-oignon, jonc du Nil, papier du Nil, papyrus, souchet à papier, souchet à tubercules, souchet rond [French]; papyrus staude, rundes zypergras [German]; zigolo infestante [Italian]; castañuela, coquito, juncia [Spanish], junça, papiro [Portuguese]; mafunjo, njaanjaa [Swahili]; سعد_بردي [Arabic]; גומא פפירוס [Hebrew]

Related feed(s) 

Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus L.) is an aquatic sedge mostly known for its use as paper by the ancient Egypt, Greek and Roman civilizations. It has been assessed as fodder for feeding livestock. The pith is edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. The dry plant can be burned for fire production. Papyrus is now widely used as an ornemental (Vaughan, 2011).


Cyperus papyrus is a stout, aquatic perennial rhizomatous sedge that grows to 3-5 m in height. The roots are tough and able to extend 1 m or more. Rootlets are numerous. Papyrus culms are erect and roundly trigonous, smooth, 15-45 (-60) mm in diameter. They are photosynthetic and contain a solid pith, white-light brown. The leaves are alternate, reduced, sheathing, reddish-blackish brown in colour when young. The inflorescence looks like an umbel, hemispherical when young and becoming sub-globose with age. It can be 30-60 cm in diameter. It contains 50-360 green smooth branches, 15-35 cm in length, that bear spikes clustered in umbels at their apex. The spikes are 2-3 cm long x 0.6-1.2 cm wide. They contain 12-40 cylindrical, sessile spikelets spirally arranged along the spike (Popay, 2014; Vaughan, 2011).


Papyrus is not primarily used as fodder but it can be browsed or cut for livestock feeding. Paper made from dried, pressed and woven strips of culm pith had been used since 3500 BCE to make paper by ancient civilizations in Egypt and the Mediterranean basin. It was the only widespread recording medium until the 8th century in Europe (Vaughan, 2011; Rooney, 2013). The fibrous parts of the culms were used for ropes, nets, sandals etc. Papyrus is cited in the Bible ("bulrush" in the King James Version) as the material used to make Moses' cradle (Exodus 2-3: She took for him an ark of bulrushes) and to make boats (Isaiah 18-2: That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters) (The Holy Bible, KJV21).

Papyrus is still used on a subsistence basis by people living in the vicinity of papyrus wetlands in Africa. It is used to make furniture, mats, baskets and other handcrafts, and for buildings, roofing, brick-making, and boat construction (Rooney, 2013; Jones et al., 2018). The pith is dried and used for stuffing mattresses and cushions (Gabon), processed with waste paper and water to make sanitary napkins (Great Lakes region), and to manufacture cardboard and wallboard (Uganda and Rwanda). The pith and the rhizomes are edible: the pith can be eaten raw or cooked, or it can be chewed like sugarcane. The ashes provide vegetable salt in Burundi. Papyrus is planted worldwide as an ornamental, and the stems and inflorescences are used in floral arrangements. It has also many uses in ethnomedicine (Vaughan, 2011; Rooney, 2013).

Papyrus has significant potential as a biofuel because of its high productivity and its habit of growing in large stands. The culms and particularly the rhizomes, which are denser, are burned for fuel though they produce high amount of smoke. Papyrus can be dried and compressed into brickettes for construction or for fuel. Dead plants turn into peat that can be extracted and used as biofuel (Rooney, 2013). However, the sustainability of papyrus biofuel should be assessed carefully so that such exploitation does not degrade the papyrus wetlands and compromise the important ecosystem services they provide (Jones et al., 2018). In Uganda, for instance, harvesting more than 15% of the papyrus from a swamp was found to be detrimental to swamp sustainability (Vaughan, 2011).

Papyrus has been cited as a potential feedstock for small-scale green biorefinery processes adapted to African conditions. This kind of process could yield a fibre-rich press cake for combustion and a protein-rich green juice suitable for animal fodder or human consumption (Jones et al., 2018; Bruins et al., 2012).


Cyperus papyrus occurs naturally in tropical and subtropical areas from sea level up to 2500 m altitude, in swamps and along the margins of lakes and rivers. It is usually anchored by its rhizome in shallow water. In deeper water, it is the chief compoent of floating vegetation islands moved by the wind. Papyrus does not withstand seasonal flooding regimes exceeding 3–4 m in amplitude, flash flooding or very low water levels during the dry season (Popay, 2014, Vaughan, 2011). Papyrus-dominated swamps are the most common type of freshwater wetland in East and Central Africa. They occur around lakes, as headwater swamps, in valley bottoms, and as large floodplain wetlands (Rooney, 2013). In East Africa, papyrus wetlands were estimated to cover about 40,000 km2 in 1992, though that surface may be decreasing due to agricultural encroachment and economic development (Jones et al., 2018). Near Lake Victoria, in Uganda, papyrus was reported to be sensitive to alum sludge discharges of a water treatment plant (Vaughan, 2011).

Forage management 


Papyrus follows the C4 phtotosynthetical pathway and has one of the the highest recorded productivity for natural ecosystems. The net primary production of a papyrus swamp was calculated to be 62.8 t/ha/year of DM, divided into 33 t/ha/year of above ground DM and 29.8 t/ha/year of below ground DM (Jones et al., 1997).

Environmental impact 

Carbon sequestration

Papyrus is a year-round, fast growing species that uses large amounts of nutrients and accumulates high biomass. The peat serves as a carbon sink while submerged, and annual carbon sequestration by a papyrus swamp was estimated at 5-16 t/ha. However, when water level decreases during the dry season, the peat rapidly decomposes and oxidizes, releasing CO(Vaughan, 2011).

Domestic and wildlife habitat

Papyrus swamps are a biodiversity reserves. The provide nesting for mammals such as the swamp-dwelling sitatunga antelope (Tragelaphus speckii), fish such as catfish (Clarius spp.) and lungfish (Protopterus aethiopicus) and in some areas, introduced Louisiana crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) (MacLean et al., 2011).

Water quality improver

Papyrus produces high amount of biomass and effectively removes N and P from wastewater and eutrophic pond water. Papyrus swamps serve as natural filters of sediment and pollutants and as shore stabilizers. This nutrient and pollutant-removal action can be exploited in waste-treatment ditches or constructed wetlands (Vaughan, 2011). Papyrus swamps have also been reported to improve drinking water quality via the retention of fecal coliforms and their associated pathogens (MacLean et al., 2011).

Water flow

Papyrus swamps limit evaporation of water and regulate flooding risk during high rainfall season (MacLean et al., 2011). However, papyrus is sometimes seen as a nuisance, as it forms floating islands that obstruct navigation and water flow (Vaughan, 2011).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Cyperus papyrus has a relatively low nutritive value, though this value depends largely on the part and age of the plant. Protein content ranging from 4% or more than 15% DM has been reported. The fibre content can be quite high (ADF > 35% DM). A comparison of the composition of umbels and culms during the plant life cycle showed that young umbels had a protein content of 11% DM while scenescent ones contained less then 6% DM of protein. Culms had a very low protein content, from 4% when young to 2% when old (Muthuri et al., 1989).

Potential constraints 

Heavy metal accumulation

Cyperus papyrus is a heavy metal accumulator. For instance, papyrus growing in river banks in a urban area in Mwanza, Tanzania, contained twice the amount of lead (8.16 vs 4 mg/kg) accepted by the Joint FAO/WHO committee on food additives (Komwihangilo et al., 2011).

Toxins and antinutritional factors

Papyrus was reported to contain alkaloids, tyramine and octopamine in its leaves (Vaughan, 2011).


Papyrus is not generally used as fodder by domestic ruminants, as accessing the unstable swamp substrate is difficult for large herbivores such as cattle (Muthuri et al., 1989). However, in areas bordering the swamps, cattle usually graze on papyrus and other sedges, especially during the dry season when the nutritive value of other forages is low (Muthuri et al., 1989). This appears to be the case in urban and per-urban areas near Lake Victoria in Tanzania (Komwihangilo et al., 2011).

Papyrus is known to be consumed by wild ruminants. In the Rushebeya-Kanyabaha wetland in Uganda, papyrus represents 28% of the intake of the swamp-dwelling antelope sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii) and is the preferred species (out of 34) of this antelope, which probably indicates that it has some palatability for this animal (Ndawula et al., 2011). In the Dhati Walal National Park in Western Ethiopia, Cyperus papyrus was the main contributor (38%) to grass biomass and thus to grazing resources. However, it was among the least preferred species for African buffaloes (Syncerus caffer) and only consumed when more palatable forages were not available (Shanko et al., 2018).

The potential of papyrus has been little investigated. When chopped into small pieces and treated with urea phosphate, papyrus was voluntarily eaten by cattle (Hakanen, 1984, cited by Muthuri et al., 1989). In vitro digestibility of the young umbels and culms was found to be low (38 and 45% respectively) and to decrease down to 28-30% in the mature plant (Muthuri et al., 1989). A reported in vitro OM digestibility value (gas production method) was similar (43%) (Onyango et al., 2019). While those digestibility values compare favourably to those of poor quality roughages of Eastern Africa, they cannot meet ruminants requirements without supplementation. It has been estimated that papyrus could be cut and chopped to supplement low quality roughages during the dry season (Vaughan, 2011; Muthuri et al., 1989). Generally, though, papyrus has a too low nutritive value to be recommended for ruminant feeding.


No information (2019).


No information (2019).


No information seems available in the international literature on the use of papyrus in rabbit feeding, and very little is known of its use for other herbivores (June 2019). For that reason, Cyperus papyrus should not yet be recommended for rabbit feeding.


Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 36.8 10.4 20.4 46 5  
Crude protein % DM 11.5 4.2 4.1 15.6 7  
Crude fibre % DM 29.4       1  
Ether extract % DM 1   0.6 1.3 3  
Ash % DM 7.3   5.6 8.4 3  
Insoluble ash % DM 3.6       1  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 63   51.2 71.4 3  
Acid detergent fibre % DM 40.2   35.3 45.2 3  
Lignin % DM 9.4   8.7 10 2  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.2       1 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 2.3       1  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 4.5 2.4 1 6.6 6  
Magnesium g/kg DM 1.2       1  
Potassium g/kg DM 12   11.1 12.9 2  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.05       1  
Sulfur g/kg DM 1       1  
Iron mg/kg DM 282       1  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.3         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 7.5         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 51.1         *
OM digestibility, ruminants % 53.4         *
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 7.5         *
MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 7.2         *
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 41.2         *
Nitrogen digestibility, rabbit % 45.8         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


CIRAD, 1991; Johnson et al., 2012; Kengne et al., 2008 Kengne et al., 2008; Onyango et al., 2019 Kengne et al., 2008; Shanko et al., 2018

Last updated on 30/07/2019 19:22:43

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Hassoun P., Lebas F., 2019. Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus). Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/603 Last updated on July 31, 2019, 16:45