Tussock bulrush (Scirpus cespitosus)

GenusScirpus (1)
SizeHeight: 7 - 35 cm (2) (3)

The tussock bulrush has not yet been assessed by the IUCN.

A grass-like, perennial plant, the tussock bulrush (Scirpus cerpitosus) grows in distinctive dense tufts (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). The long, smooth, erect stems are slim and often tapering (3) (5). Straight, fine, thread-like leaves cluster around the base of the plant (4) (5), and the greyish-brown, scale-like leaf-sheaths typically form a conspicuous build-up around the base of the plant (2) (6). The uppermost leaf sheath is green and has a smooth, blunt-tipped blade (3) (6).

The inflorescence of the tussock bulrush has several flowers, which are arranged spirally in a single, short ‘spikelet’ at the end of a flowering stem. The spikelets have reddish-brown to dark brown scales, which are small, thin, protective leaf-like structures (5). Beneath the spikelet is a scale-like leaf or a reduced bract (4) (5). The spikelets contain between three to nine flowers, each with a single orange-brown floral scale that has pale margins (2). The outer part of the flower, the perianth, is modified into six brown or white bristles (2) (4) (5) (6).

The fruit of the tussock bulrush is a smooth, brown or golden-brown, three-sided achene, which has a short point and is surrounded by inconspicuous bristles (2) (4) (5) (6).

Generally, two subspecies of tussock bulrush are recognised: Scirpus cespitosus cespitosum and Scirpus cespitosus germanicum. S. c. cespitosum generally forms smaller tufts with smaller, weaker stems and fewer flowers than S. c. germanicum (3).

A widely distributed species, the tussock bulrush occurs throughout Europe and North America. In North America, this species ranges from Alaska, as far north as the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, east to Quebec, Labrador and Greenland, and south to the northern United States (2) (6). 

In Europe, the tussock bulrush occurs from Iceland to Finland and parts of the Russian Federation, and as far south as Belgium and Germany (2) (6).  

The tussock bulrush is commonly found in fens, wet meadows, and wet, marshy tracts of low-lying land along old beach ridges (4) (7). It occurs from sea-level to 2,100 metres (5).

This species may also be found in peaty meadows, along streams, in damp hollows on tundra, and in other areas where the ground is peaty or acidic (2) (8).

The tussock bulrush flowers from early June to early August (7). Fruits are produced in the summer from late June onwards (5) (7), and mature fruits have been observed in July and August (4).

The tussock bulrush has a secure global population and is not currently considered endangered.

However, in Wisconsin in the U.S., the tussock bulrush has been listed as ‘Threatened’ by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. This may be due to its rarity in the state, or because of unspecified factors which are currently making it vulnerable to local extinction (7).

There are currently no known specific conservation measures targeting the tussock bulrush. 

In Wisconsin, this species is protected by law, which makes it an offence to process or sell any wild plant that is a listed species without a valid permit (7).

Find out more about the tussock bulrush:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2011)
  2. Aiken, S.G., Dallwitz, M.J., Consaul, L.L., McJannet, C.L., Boles, R.L., Argus, G.W., Gillett, J.M., Scott, P.J., Elven, R., LeBlanc, M.C., Gillespie, L.J., Brysting, A.K., Solstad, H. and Harris, J.G. (2007) Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. NRC Research Press, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa. Available at:
  3. Stage, C. (1997) New Flora of the British Isles, Second Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 
  4. Montana Field Guide - Tufted club-rush, Trichophorum cespitosum (July, 2011)
  5. Flora of North America - Trichophorum cespitosum (July, 2011)
  6. Beetle, A.A. (1941) Studies in the genus Scirpus L. II. The section Baeothryon Ehrh. American Journal of Botany, 28(6): 469-476.
  7. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Tufted bulrush, Scirpus cespitosus (July, 2011)
  8. Michigan Flora Online - Trichophorum cespitosum (July, 2011)