Reach for an Umbrella? How About an Umbrella Palm?
The regular cold frontal passages that kept our temperatures in check in December also brought rain across the state. The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) reports a preliminary statewide average precipitation for last month of 4.20 inches, or our 44th-wettest December since 1895. The heaviest precipitation fell across the northeastern Piedmont and the central Coastal Plain. The preliminary statistics from NCEI show 2020 ranked as our 4th-warmest and 2nd-wettest year out of the 126 years with observations available.
Gardeners with areas that tend to retain moisture can attest to the fact that while 2020 wasn’t a record-setting year for temperatures or precipitation on a state level, it was still exceptionally warm and wet overall. Keeping in mind the concept of the right plant in the right place at the right time, consider the elegant and eye-catching Umbrella Palm plant (Cyperus alternifolius) for those wet spots in the garden.
It’s robust and not fussy in otherwise hard-to-plant wet places, expanding by slowly spreading rhizomes. The umbrella palm will thrive almost anywhere with even sloppy-wet or simply fertile soil in full sun or part shade to provide stunning texture and grace to the landscape. It’s smooth, green, leafy grass-like bracts whorl to form an umbrella at top of the 3-6 foot stem (scape). It sports small white flowers at the base of each leaf in mid-summer.
Large-sized, dwarf or variegated, this perennial member of the ornamental grass and sedge plant type adds interest to the “wet feet” challenged garden scape and is often used in water gardens. It has a high heat tolerance and a strong, dense root system that while more aggressive in warmer climates, make it a successful candidate for absorbing and accumulating excess nitrogen from industrial discharges in phytoremediation effluent treatments to enhance water quality.
Generally, for everyone outside of Florida fall is becoming wetter and all other seasons are the same or becoming drier. Global climate models have a difficult time predicting whether the rainfall in the Southeast will increase or decrease because the physical processes that form clouds and rain in the computer models are highly variable.
When considering your landscape remember: The Right Plant In The Right Place At The Right Time. Cyperus alternifolius is attractive AND hard working, however, the plant roots need a good amount of moisture, the foliage will be killed with the first frost, but remerges in the spring, and the crown needs temperatures above 20˚F, so if planted outside site it correctly and provide mulch over the winter. For more details about this plant, go to the Cyperus alternifolius page in the Extension Gardener Plant Tool Box. Grab your Umbrella and enjoy Mother Nature!
Minda Daughtry is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.