Cyperaceae: Sedge Family — Tule, Bulrushes et al

“Reeds and rushes are round but sedges have edges”.  There is some truth in this popular saying, but it is not always correct.  However, it does explain why Bulrushes have triangular, sometimes sharp-edged stems; this is because they are sedges (Cyperaceae), not reeds or rushes (Juncaceae).

Alkali Bulrush – Bolboschoenus maritimus subsp. paludosus

Blooms:

Summer

Plant Height:

50–150 cm

Flower Size:

Small cluster

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Brackish to saline coastal or inland marshes

Notes:

Like Common Three Square Bulrush (Schoenoplectus pungens, see below), this has triangular, sharp-edged stems and flowers in a tight cluster.  Unlike it, the inflorescence sits above long, slender (2–12 mm wide), leaf-like bracts.  Stamens are yellow and stigmas in pairs.

Tall Cyperus – Cyperus eragrostis

Blooms:

May–Nov

Plant Height:

10–90 cm

Flower Size:

Medium cluster

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Moist places

Notes:

This is a common, small sedge.  It has long, narrow rays (distinct from the basal leaves) projecting from the tip of the stem.  Each inflorescence comprises 20–150 flat spikelets, 5–20 mm long.

Yellow Nut-grass – Cyperus esculentus var. leptostachyus

Blooms:

Summer

Plant Height:

15–50 cm

Flower Size:

Medium cluster

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Cropland, disturbed places

Notes:

At first sight, this looks similar to Tall Cyperus (Cyperus eragrostis, see above).  But it can be distinguished by its single, triangular stem and more open inflorescence.  Each flower has 3 stamens (unlike the single stamen found on Tall Cyperus).  In certain areas, it is regarded as a noxious weed.

Pale Spikerush – Eleocharis macrostachya

Blooms:

Spring–summer

Plant Height:

20–100 cm

Flower Size:

Small spike

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Marshes & wet places

Notes:

This pale plant has its inflorescence in a narrow terminal spikelet, 5–40 mm long and 2–5 mm wide.  Leaves are merely vestigial.  Unlike many other members of this genus, the individual flowers have 2 stigmas rather than 3, and fruits are lens-shaped rather than plump or triangular.  Can be found in extended colonies.

California Tule / Bulrush – Schoenoplectus californicus

Blooms:

Spring–summer

Plant Height:

< 4 m

Flower Size:

Large cluster

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Wet places

Notes:

Much more common in Monterey County than Common Tule (Schoenoplectus acutus var. occidentalis).  This plant is recognized by its three-sided (rather than round) bright green stems, triangular in cross-section with rounded corners.  The inflorescence is in panicles, with a more or less erect subtending bract.

Common Three Square Bulrush – Schoenoplectus pungens var. longispicatus

Blooms:

Spring–summer

Plant Height:

< 2 m

Flower Size:

Small cluster

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Fresh or brackish marshes or shores

Notes:

Very different from California Tule (Schoenoplectus californicus, see above), this also has triangular stems but with sharp corners and slightly concave sides.  The flowers are in tight clusters of spikelets with sharp, red-brown scales.  A specialized bract resembles a continuation of the stem beyond the spikelets.

Panicled Bulrush – Scirpus microcarpus

Blooms:

June–July

Plant Height:

60–160 cm

Flower Size:

Large cluster

Origin:

Native

Habitat:

Wet places, marshes, streambanks

Notes:

A common plant alongside streams, this has a distinctive spreading panicle of flowers, similar to California Tule (Schoenoplectus californicus, see above).  However, this is more delicate, is wider spreading and produces small white flowers.  Note the triangular upper stem.