FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Scirpus pungens is a rhizomatous warm season perennial sedge relative. Plants produce upright sharply triangular pithy 4’ culms. Leaves are lower growing, basal and similar to the culms in appearance. In summer, culms bear clusters of scaly brown conical bristly spikelets. This contender is much too aggressive for small manicured gardens. Instead the tenacious roots and rhizomes are a boon for expansive wetland restoration projects and soggy sites with erosion issues.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Scirpus pungens occurs through most of the United States, southern Canada, Central and South America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
Habitats include freshwater or brackish shorelines, marshes, fens, wet meadows and muddy or sandy lake borders. Plants often grow as emergents in shallow water.
This species is hardy from USDA Zones 2-9.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Scirpus pungens is an unbranched perennial with vigorous rhizomes. The rhizomes are scaly, up to ¼” across and often vertical.
Plants have sturdy green triangular culms that average 4’ height. Blades originate near the plant base. They are about 2’ long and 1/8” wide with grooved channels. The leaf appearance is so similar to the culms that the two blend together.
In summer, compact clusters of 1-6 bud-like sessile spikelets appear on the side of the culms. The bristly spikelets are covered by yellowish or reddish brown scales. As the spikelets mature, sharp beaked gray to black achenes form.
Plants attain 4’ height with 2-4’ spread. This species usually forms colonies on shorelines or in shallow water.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Scirpus pungens prospers in sunny moist or wet sites.
Plants grow in saturated soils or shallow standing water in alkaline, saline or freshwater conditions. Generally this species is found in water less than 6” deep but the species is reported to tolerate water that fluctuates becoming up to 17” deep.
The preference seems to be for wet sand. Plants tolerate clay, fine textured organic soils and temporary drought.
This species readily self-sows and increases by rhizomes. Avoid planting in sites with limited space and vulnerable less aggressive companions.
LANDSCAPE USES: Scirpus pungens is especially valuable for stabilizing or restoring degraded sites, for Erosion Control and for wildlife food and cover. The species is planted in Restoration and Stormwater Management Projects. Plants are often installed as Groupings or Mass Plantings in Wetland situations.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairingwith Carex comosa, Carex lurida, Carex vulpinoidea, Iris versicolor, Mimulus ringens, Verbena hastata or Juncus effusus.
Scirpus validus has similar appearance and cultural needs and can be substituted if needed.
TRIVIA: Scirpus pungens is very similar to or possibly synonymous with Scirpus americanus. Taxonomists now recognize this species as Schoenoplectus pungens.
This species dominates Bulrush Wet Meadow Communities in the western United States and Canada. These meadows occur around meandering streams, springs and marsh or pond borders. This community consists mostly of herbaceous monocots but a few forbs and scattered trees or shrubs may be present.
Described in Botanical writings as cespitose or “Having the form of a piece of turf, i.e. many stems from one rootstock or from many entangled … roots”.
The seeds are a good food for ducks, rails and other wetland birds. Plants are considered deer resistant.
For more information on this plant, visit the USDA PLANTS Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=SCPU10