Bulrushes

Bulrushes Common Bulrush Bulrushes Common Bulrush

What are they?

These plants are highly distinctive members of wetland communities and are readily recognisable by their brown, club-shaped heads. Many are the people who have collected these at the seeding stage and taken them home for dried flower arrangements, only to find that the warmth of the house advances the seed dispersal and the living room is awash with fluffy down! Much confusion has been caused by occasional changes of the english name for this group. 'Bulrush' was once used as a name for the species of Schoenoplectus that we now call club-rushes and the species of Typha that are covered here were formerly called 'Reed-mace'. The name changed, people got indignant, so it changed back again, but not everyone accepted the change, but modern day floras all use 'Bulrush' for Typha species, so I follow that decision here. Just to add more potential confusion, the same two species are known as 'cat-tails' in North America!

Where are they found?

These are plants of wetland habitats and may be found in a wide range of wet habitats, from muddy ditches to the margins of lakes and rivers.

Identification

Easily recognised as a group with their long, strap-shaped leaves and very distinctive flower spikes. The flower spike appears in mid-summer with the green, spongy lower part consisting of a huge mass of female flowers. The upper, slightly woolly looking section consists of many male flowers and these produce the pollen, after which they wither and fall. As the spike matures, the fertilised female flowers turn brown, while the upper section becomes a bare spike after the male flowers drop. Over the winter, the fruiting heads break down and eventually irrupt in a mass of seeds embedded in fluff, which blow away on the wind.

The two species are quite easy to tell apart by differences in leaf width and by differences in their flower and fruiting spikes. However, care should be taken to be aware of hybrids which are scarce but do occur. They are typically intermediate in their measurements and the details of their spikes.



Common Bulrush      Typha latifolia

Native. Widespread and common in many kinds of wetland habitats, including seasonally wet areas that dry out in summer. Flowers June to July. The leaves are slightly glaucous in colour and are typically 8-25mm wide. Male and female parts of the flower spike show no gap between them, or at the very most a gap of no more than 2cm. The developing seedheads become dark, chocolate brown and are 18-30mm wide.

Common Bulrush Common Bulrush Common Bulrush Common Bulrush
Habit
Flower spike
Leaves
Developing seedhead


Lesser Bulrush      Typha angustifolia

Native. Widespread in wetland habitats but rather less common than Common Bulrush and frequent only in the Broads on peaty soils and in certain old clay pits in Cambridgeshire. Flowers June to July. The leaves are green in colour and are typically 3-9mm wide. Male and female parts of the flower spike show a clear gap of 3-8cm between them. The developing seedheads are rusty-brown and are 13-25mm wide. Note that the stem gap between the male and female flowers can be detected after the male flowers have dropped as it remains green and shiny, while the section that held the male flowers will be non-shiny and straw-coloured.

Lesser Bulrush Lesser Bulrush Lesser Bulrush Lesser Bulrush
Habit
Flower spike
Leaves
Developing seedhead