Homegrown: Mystery plant, paulownia trees

I have a plant I potted that I need help identifying. It grows like a reed with dark green stems that are hollow in the middle. The stems are kind of three sided and topped with a thick cluster of green “threads” that look like a mop. Should this be replanted outside or in a pond?

— Sheila

What you have is a papyrus (cyperus papyrus). This plant has been used for thousands of years as a source of paper — it’s where “papyrus scrolls” come from — as well as boats and food.

The plant is a native to North Africa and naturally grows in wet, marshy areas in subtropical areas of the world, though it can grow in rich soil with regular watering.

Here in western Colorado, it’s used as either a houseplant or as an annual outdoors.

It’s considered a perennial in warm winter climates such as Southern California or the deep South, but around here it gets too cold for the plant over the winter and will die if unprotected.

If you want to bring it inside, find a spot with tons of bright light (this is important!) that won’t get below 60 or 65 degrees (though I’ve heard of people saying that it isn’t all that sensitive to temperature and will tolerate 50 degrees), and be sure to water it regularly.

You really want to pay attention to the watering; if it dries out even a little, it will start to brown and dry up. Since it’s marsh plant, people even put them in buckets of water successfully.

One last caution is that the plant can be a bit sensitive to salts in the water and since our water here can be a bit “hard,” the safest way to go is to use distilled water with it.

We are trying to find out if paulownia trees work well here in the valley. We live in Fruita with fairly hard clay soil.

— Velvet

Paulownia or empress tree isn’t all that common around here.

I would consider it a bit marginal on the cold tolerance end of things, but I have seen some nice big trees in Fruita, so maybe I’m just being overly cautious.

This tree grows extremely fast, maybe not quite as fast as a cottonwood, but it is still impressive.

Empress tree has beautiful flowers early in the spring. It is a bright lavender purple and borne at the tips of the branches.

Unfortunately, the tree often fails to bloom well because it sets its flower buds the prior year (the buds look like bunches of olives at the tip of the branches) and those buds can be killed by our cold winter weather.

Even without the flowers, I think the tree is worth considering.

It has huge, fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves that lend a tropical feel to the yard. Some people don’t train it as a tree in the yard but instead cut the plant down to the ground every year to resprout into a 10-foot tall shrub.

It will never bloom if handled this way, but the leaves will become especially large, often exceeding 2 feet across.

This tree can be difficult to find at times so call around, or you may have to start with a small one you can get online.

I planted some irises this summer and to my surprise, one of them has been blooming this fall. Apparently, some varieties of iris bloom late?

— Kirk

This is really not the time of the year for iris to be blooming.

There are some newer varieties that supposedly bloom again in the fall but they’re usually blooming in late August into September.

I think what’s going on is that your iris are a little confused. This happens sometimes when plants are under stress or shaken out of their normal “routine.”

As long as the plants are growing well and looking good I wouldn’t be worried.

The only problem you may run into is that I’d expect those iris to give you little if any bloom next spring.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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