Animal feed resources information system

Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus)

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: This datasheet is pending revision and updating; its contents are currently derived from FAO's Animal Feed Resources Information System (1991-2002) and from Bo Göhl's Tropical Feeds (1976-1982).


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Common names 

Papyrus, bulrush, coco-grass, Egytian paper-reed, paper reed, papyrus [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]

Related feed(s) 

Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) is an aquatic grass mostly known for its use as paper by Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations in the Antiquity.  It has been assessed as fodder for feeding livestock. The pith is also edible: it can be eaten raw or cooked. The dry plant can be burnt for fire production.Papyrus is widely used as an ornamental (Vaughan, 2011).


Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) is a stout, aquatic perennial rhizomatous grass 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 becoming sub-globose with age, it can be 30-60 cm in diameter. They contain 50-360 green smooth branches, 15-35 cm in length which bear the 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 (Vaughan, 2011)

Papyrus was used to make paper during Antiquity (3500 BCE) and kept being the only widespread recording medium until the 8th or 9th century A.D. or sooner in Europe (Rooney, 2013). The pith was extracted from the culm and then woven to make sheets of paper (Vaughan, 2011). Sheets of papyrus of 4600 year-old have been found. The pith was used for paper and the external fibrous parts of the culms were used for ropes, nets, sandals etc.... Moses was laid in a cradle woven from papyrus and was discovered in the swamps among papyrus by the daughter of the Pharaoh who adopted him as her son (Duke, 2007).

Papyrus was cited in the Bible: "That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying, "Go, ye swift messengers to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled!" Isaiah 18:2 (The Holy Bible, KJV21).

Nowadays, in Gabon, the pith is dried and used for stuffing mattresses and cushions. In the Great Lakes region, sanitary napkins are manufactured from papyrus pith, waste paper and water (Vaughan, 2011). In Uganda and Rwanda, some factories are making cardboard and wallboard with papyrus. The pith is edible and can be eaten raw or cooked, it can be chewed like sugarcane. The rhizome is also edible. Dry plants and rhizomes can be burnt for fuel though they produce high amount of smoke. The ashes provide vegetable salt in Burundi. Papyrus can be dried and compressed into brickettes tfor construction or for fuel. Commercial peat extraction was supposed to enter in production in 2017 in Rwanda. This source of energy would make a national scale contribution as a substitute or replacement for wood and coal (Rooney, 2013). 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)


Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) naturally occurs in tropical and subtropical areas of the world from sea level up to 2500 m altitude in swamps and along the margins of lakes and rivers. It can float in open water, or be anchored by its rhizome in shallow water.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, occurring around lakes, as headwater swamps, in valley bottoms or as large floodplain wetlands : they would cover 40,000 km² in this area (Rooney, 2013).

Near Lake Victoria, in Uganda, papyrus was reported to be sensitive to alum sludge discharges of a water treatment plant (Vaughan,2011). It was also found that harvesting more than 15% papyrus from a swamp was sustainably detrimental to the swamp (Vaughan, 2011)

Forage management 


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

Environmental impact 

Carbon sequestration

Papyrus is a year-round, fast growing species that used large amount of nutrients and accumulate high biomass. When papyrus dies, dead plants form a mass of peat. This peat serves as a carbon sink while submerged, and annual carbon sequestration by a papyrus swamp was estimated at 5–16 t per ha. However, when water level decreases during the dry season, the peat is rapidly decomposed and oxidized to release carbon dioxide gas (Vaughan, 2011).

Domestic and wildlife habitat

Papyrus swamps are nest for game like sitatunga (Tragelaphus speckii) and for several fish species particularly catfish (Clarius spp.), 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 subsequently 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. The nutrient and pollutant-removal action of papyrus can be exploited in manmade 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 regulation/obstruction

Papyrus swamps limit evaporation of water and regulate flooding risk during high rainfall season (MacLean et al., 2011). Papyrus can however be, sometimes, considered a nuisance, forming floating islands that obstruct navigation and water flow (Vaughan, 2011).

Nutritional aspects
Potential constraints 

Heavy metal accumulation

Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) is a heavy metal accumulator. Around Lake Victoria, along the river Nyamuhongolo papyrus that grows on the river banks has been analyzed and fount to have alarming level of lead (8.16 mg/kg) which is 2-fold the maximum level  (4 mg/kg) accepted  by the Joint FAO/WHO expert 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 the preferred grass (among 34 identified species of grass and herbs) of sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii) : papyrus represents 28% of the intake of this ruminant and can thus be considered as palatable (Ndawula et al., 2011).

Growing in swamps, it is unlikely that papyrus could be grazed by cattle because of difficult access to the plant for haevy animals. It could however be cut and chopped to supplement low quality roughages during the dry season when other grasses nutritive value is at its worst (Vaughan, 2011; Muthuri  et al., 1989).

In 2011, papyrus was considered as consistent part of ruminant diets in the region of Lake Victoria and for this reason was assessed for heavy metal content. Papyrus grown in urban and peri-urban river banks had alarming level of lead (Komwihangilo et al., 2011).

Degradability, digestibility

In Kenya, young parts (unopen umbels) of papyrus were reported to have medium crude protein content (less than 11% DM) and low dry matter digestibility (DMD, 38%), young culms had still lower in CP (4%) but had higher DMD (45%) (Muthuri et al., 1989).

However, DMD in both parts decreased to 28 30% with age (Muthuri et al., 1989). Those DMD compared favourably to those of poor quality roughages of Eastern Africa though it could not be affirmed that it can meet ruminants requirements without supplementation.

Papyrus is generally not used as ruminant feed while it is sometimes grazed by cattle during the dry season in East Africa (Muthuri et al., 1989). Because of its very low nutritive value (CP and DMD) mature papyrus is not recommended as ruminant feed. Only the youngest part of the plant could be used roughage (i.e. cereal straws). It was reported that papyrus chopped into small parts and treated with urea, can be eaten by cattle, but there are no other results available (Muthuri et al., 1989).


No information (2019).


No information (2019).


No information seems available in the international literature on the direct use of green or dry papyrus in rabbit feeding (June 2019). The situation seems similar for other herbivorous animals. Thus, up to now Cyperus papyrus should be considered as a plant not suitable for rabbit feeding.

However for the future, a recent process was proposed in which the green biomass is separated into fibre-rich press cake for combustion while the green juice can be processed to produce high quality protein for animal fodder (Jones et al., 2018). No experimental demonstration is presently available on the real nutritive value of this juice nor on it’s the potential toxicity.


Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 
Datasheet citation 

DATASHEET UNDER CONSTRUCTION. DO NOT QUOTE. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/603 Last updated on July 11, 2019, 10:48