Eleocharis palustris

Common Spike Rush

Common Spikerush, Photo Courtesy USDA Plants Database

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The natural history of the northwoods


  • Eleocharis, from the Greek, `eleios (heleios) , "of the marsh or meadow", and caris (charis) , "joy; grace; kindness; beauty", sometimes a reference to a specific plant.
  • palustris, from the Latin, paluster, "marshy, boggy"
  • Common Name, from the shape of the leafless stems and its wide distribution.
  • Other common names include: Creeping Spike Rush, Pale Spike Rush, Almindelig Sumpstrå (Dan), Rantaluikka, Suoluikka (Fin), Bioran Coitcheann (Gaelic), Gewöhnliche Sumpfbinse (Ger), Votasef (Isl), Sumpsevaks (Nor), Bahnička Močiarna (Slovak), Knappsäv, Nordknappsäv, Nordlig Knappsäv, Bottnisk Knappsäv, Sydknappsäv, Sydlig Knappsäv (Swe)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Liliopsida, the Monocotyledons
      • Subclass Commelinidae
        • Order Cyperales
          • Family Cyperaceae, the Sedges
            • Genus Eleocharis, the Spike Rushes, over 100 difficult-to-distinguish species worldwide.
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 40019
  • Also known as Eleocharis calva var. australis, Eleocharis macrostachya, Eleocharis mamillata, Eleocharis palustris var. australis, Eleocharis palustris var. major, Eleocharis perlonga, Eleocharis smallii var. major, Eleocharis xyridiformis


  • A perennial herb forming dense tufts
  • Leaves reduced to sheaths
  • Stems upright, smooth, unbranched, to 2' tall.
  • Roots fix nitrogen; creeping rhizomes
  • Flowers one per scale, with several scales per spikelet, each spikelet lanceoloid to ovoid, usually pointed at the tip, up to 1½" long; brown spikelets borne at the top of the stems. Flowers June-August.
  • Scales ovate to obovate, usually rounded at the tip, brown, 1/16"-1/10" long.
  • Fruit a yellow achene; obovoid, about 1/20" long, capped by a small, conspicuous tubercle, subtended by 3-6 barbed bristles.
  • Seedhead brown, scaley, and conical.


  • Identifiable as a Spike Rush by its leaf-less stems
  • Distinguished from other North Country Spike Rushes by the presence of rhizomes and its flat achenes with a conspicuous tubercle.


  • Saskatchewan west to British Columbia, north into Alaska, Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories, south into parts of the Pacific Northwest States to southern California, east across the Great Plains into the southeastern states, and as far north as Minnesota and Illinois. Native to Hawaii


  • Moist soils to shallow waters
  • Grows in marshes, roadside ditches, and along streambanks, lakeshores, riverbottoms, and in wet meadows and flood areas
  • Grows in a variety of soils, including those derived from alluvial parent materials, alkaline, sand loams, sedimentary peat, organic loams, the Quaternary group, Histosols, Mollisols, and Entisols
  • Usually top-killed by fire, it can sprout from rhizomes following the burn.


  • Trees: Tammarack (Larix laricina), Black Spruce (Picea mariana)
  • Shrubs: Bog Birch (Betula pumila), Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), Sweet Gale (Myrica gale), Willow (Salix spp.)
  • Herbs: Tufted Hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa), Horsetails (Equisetum spp.), Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor), Rushes (Juncus spp.), Sedges (Carex spp.), Bulrush (Scirpus spp.), Cattails (Typha spp)
  • Ground Covers: Sphagnum Mosses (Sphagnum spp.)
  • Mammals: Moose (Alces alces)
  • Birds: The achenes are eaten by waterfowl.



  • Important as food and cover for waterfowl.
  • Of little or no value to livestock


  • Regenerates primarily by rhizomes, colonizing areas not conducive to seedling establishment.
  • Seeds are always present in the seed bank and can germinate in standing water.


  • By rhizome division.


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Sun full; shade intolerant
    • Minimum frost-free days - 100
    • Soil moist, pH 4-8
    • Fertilization minimal
  • Size 6"-12"W x 12"-18"H
  • Growth rate moderate
  • Available by mail order from specialty suppliers or at local nurseries



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Last updated on 26 February, 2004