The Common Club-rush and the Sedge family

The Common Club-rush where we harvested a few days before!

Today I am inspired to write about the members of the large Sedge and Rush family or Cyperaceae. I recently helped my friend Sally harvesting many stems of the Common Club-rush or Schoenoplectus lacustris in order for her to make many beautiful items after they have dried in about 6 weeks time!

This is an important native plant which can be used to weave mats, baskets or any other implements as you can find out more on the next page and it even got edible and medicinal uses!

It is one of those plants which could feature in a real Ethnobotanical Garden instead of this virtual one to demonstrate all its uses it had in the past but could certainly be again in the future! Below some of the pictures taken by my friend on our recent adventure harvesting the Common Club-rush.

Most information is from specialist websites for which I provide the links for you to find more information and pictures of the plants. I use colour coding for easy reading! Blue background is general interesting info (although I hope you find it all interesting!!). Green is about all the uses except for medicinal uses or if there is a warning in which case I use a pink background. Pictures by Matt Summers or Mike Poulton unless stated.

The Common Club-rush is one of the members of the large Sedge family or Cyperaceae which is number 176 in Stace. It is before the Grass family (177) and after the Juncaceae (175) or real Rush family, which is another family to write about in next post!

These are all very ‘grass-like’ plants but with their own anatomy and flower structures. It is a specialist subject all together to get to know these monocot families as the individual flowers and structures are so much more delicate then those of the flowering plants! They are all fascinating and beautiful of course and you can learn a little about how to identify these by getting specialist books:

First a little about the entire family and a list of the different genera & species which are native and useful in one form or another to us people.

Eriophorum or Cottongrasses

has 4 native species.

Paper and the wicks of candles have been made of its fiber, and pillows stuffed with the same material.

The leaves were formerly used in treating diarrhea, and the spongy pith of the stem for the removal of tapeworm.

Edible Uses:

Young stem bases – raw or cooked. Usually cooked and eaten with oil. Root – raw or cooked. The blackish covering should be removed.

Trichophorum or Deergrasses

Has 3 native species but no known uses.

Bolboschoenus maritimus or Sea Club-rush

Scirpus sylvaticus or Wood Club-rush

Schoenoplectus or Club-rushes

has 4 native species which are all useful:

Schoenoplectus lacustris or Common Club-rush

This is the plant we harvested this morning and are growing abundantly in the canals near Walsall!

Other Uses:

The stems are used in weaving and basket making. They are used to make good quality mats for use on the floor, for sleeping on and for making temporary partitions.

Medicinal Uses:

The roots are astringent and diuretic. They were formerly employed medicinally but have fallen into disuse. This plant is a traditional medicine for cancer.

Edible Uses:

Root – raw or cooked. Rich in starch, it can be dried and ground into a powder or made into a syrup. The buds at the end of the rhizomes are crisp and sweet, making excellent eating raw. Young shoots – raw or cooked. Used in spring. Seed – ground up into a powder and mixed with flour for use in making cakes etc. The seed is small and rather fiddly to harvest and utilize. Base of mature stems – raw or cooked. Somewhat tough. Pollen – raw or cooked. Rich in pollen, it is mixed with flour and used in making cakes etc.

S. tabernaemontani or Grey Club-rush and for lots of pictures see here

The new shoots and young roots may be eaten raw or cooked. The older roots can be made into flour.

Medicinal Uses:

The root is astringent and diuretic. The stem pith is haemostatic. A poultice of the stem pith has been placed under a dressing in order to stop wounds bleeding.

Edible Uses:

Root – raw or cooked. Rich in starch. The root contains a small amount of starch. The sweet roots are eaten raw in mid summer. The bruised young roots, when boiled in water, furnish a sweet syrup. The rhizomes are 3 – 10mm in diameter. Young shoots – cooked. The tender base of the stem is eaten raw in salads. The pollen is used in soups or mixed with flour and used in making bread. It is rich in protein. Seed. No further details are given but it is probably ground into a powder and used in making bread etc. The seed is small and rather fiddly to harvest and utilize.

Other Uses:

The stems are used in weaving and basket making. They are used to make good quality mats for use on the floor, for sleeping on and for making temporary partitions. The stems are pulled off the plant rather than cut to ensure the maximum length of stem.

S. triqueter or Triangular Club-rush

Eleocharis or Spike-rushes

Has 7 native species but no known uses for those.

One of the best known species is the Chinese water chestnut, Eleocharis dulcis. These plants bear tubers on their rhizomes which may be peeled and eaten raw or boiled. In Australia, magpie geese rely almost exclusively on these tubers for sustenance for a significant portion of the year.

Scirpoides holoschoenus or Round-headed Club-rush

Isolepis or Club-rushes

has 2 native species: I. setacea (Bristle Club-rush) & I. cernua (Slender Club-rush)

Eleogiton fluitans or Floating Club-rush

Cyperus or Galingales

Has 2 native species and 1 introduced + naturalized.

This has about 700 species worldwide with several of them having uses according to Wikipedia.

Our own native species: C. longus or Galingale and C. fuscus or Brown Galingale are attractive plants for a garden pond perhaps?

Cyperus eragrostis at a sewage scrape in Sutton Park (by M. Poulton)

C. eragrostis or Pale Galingale is introduced probably as an ornamental pond plants and can be invasive in some areas.

C. esculentus or Tiger Nut is one of the oldest cultivated plants in prehistoric and Ancient Egypt and can sometimes be found as a novelty. It is cultivated for its edible tubers, called earth almonds or tiger nuts, as a snack food and for the preparation of horchata de chufa, a sweet, milk-like beverage.

Cyperus fuscus a rare native (Picture by Christophe BERNIER)

Cyperus fuscus is one of 101 species named as a priority for conservation by the conservation charity Plantlife.

Blysmus or Flat-sedges

Has 2 native species: B. compressus (Flat-sedge) & B. rufus (Saltmarsh Flat-sedge)

Schoenus or Bog-rushes

Has 2 native species: S. nigricans or Black Bog-rush and S. ferrugineus or Brown Bog-rush.

Cladium mariscus or Great Fen-sedge

This can be up to 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in) tall, and has leaves with hard serrated edges. In the past, it was an important material to build thatched roofs; harvesting it was an arduous task due to its sharp edges that can cause deep lacerations.

Rhynchospora or Beak-sedges

Has 2 native species: R. alba or White Beak-sedge and R. fusca or Brown Beak-sedge

 R. alba is used as an ornamental in the UK.

Carex or Sedges

The genus has more than 2000 species worldwide and on the British Isles there are 78 known species according to Stace divided into 3 subgenera to aid identification. In the Birmingham and Black Country Flora there are 37 listed.

I will just mention a few more common and distinct Sedges as it is just too many for my post!

C. paniculata or Greater Tussock-sedge is a spectacular and primeval looking sedge which does occur all along the main stream at Cannock Chase.

C. arenaria or Sand Sedge is mentioned by J. Barker in the Medicinal Flora as a useful species. This is a creeping plant and therefore can be used like Marram Grass (Ammophila arenaria) to bind dunes and stop them drifting.

Like most grasses and sedges it has a high content of silica making it unpalatable to grazing animals.

While silica has potential therapeutic value in pulmonary and vascular complaints it has not been studied. The rhizome however has a place in folk medicine as an alterative.

Medicinal Uses:

Bronchitis & bronchial catarrh. Rheumatic pain. Leclere suggests that it may be useful for gout. Its rputation as a deparative would suggest a beneficial action when taken for skin in poor condition.

C. riparia or Great Pond Sedge

Details of Great Pond Sedge or C. riparia (by A. Poirel in Wikipedia Commons)

The straw is used for bedding.

C. canescens or White Sedge.

Rare plant of C. canescens only found at Sutton Park in the Birmingham and Black Country (by M. Poulton)

C. disticha or Brown Sedge

C. ovalis or Oval Sedge

C. remota or Remote Sedge

C. echinata or Star Sedge

C. hirta or Hairy Sedge

C. sylvatica or Wood Sedge

Wood Sedge or C. sylvatica compilation (by A. Poirel in Wikipedia Commons)

It can be used in gardens as ground cover under trees or shrubs; Carl Linnaeus recorded that the Sami people used the plant as an insulating wadding.

C. flacca or Glaucous Sedge

It is cultivated by plant nurseries as an ornamental plant, planted for accent or as a groundcover in gardens and public landscapes. It is also used in drought tolerant landscaping and erosion control plantings. It grows in sun to part shade settings.

C. caryophllea or Spring Sedge

C. pilulifera or Pill Sedge

As the seeds of C. pilulifera ripen, the culms bend, and can eventually touch the ground. The seeds are then dispersed by ants, particularly Myrmica ruginodis, in a process known as myrmecochory, and are eaten by other insects, such as the ground beetle Harpalus fuliginosus.

C. nigra or Common Sedge (Picture by M. Poulton)

C. nigra or Common Sedge (Picture above by M. Poulton)

C. pendula or Pendulous Sedge

C. pendula or Pendulous Sedge (by M. Poulton)

This is a large sedge to finish off with! It is frequently growing in the gardens I look after. It is mostly not welcome though as it is a very enthusiastic and seeds about in the Walsall clay soil! In nature it occurs in woodland, scrubland, hedges and beside streams, preferring damp, heavy clay soils. It is sometimes grown as a garden plant because of its distinctive appearance.

To finish of a gallery of pictures showing the diversity of several sedges, taken in Birmingham & Black Country area by M. Poulton.

Leave a Reply