Hardstem Bulrush Schoenoplectus acutus

Hardstem bulrush Schoenoplectus acutus

Other names: Tule

Synonyms: Scirpus acutus Muhl. ex Bigelow, Schoenoplectus lacustris

Plant Family: Sedge, Cyperaceae

Wetland Indicator Status OBL

Hardstem bulrush (Schoenoplectus acutus) is a valuable plant to fish and wildlife.  The long, narrow stems a great location for spawning Northern Pike to adhere their eggs.  In early spring, yellow perch drape the zigzag-shaped egg masses on the dead stems.  As summer nears, the stems, bluegills, and other male sunfishes create nests and attract females.   If the bulrush beds are thick enough, birds will make their nests, like Redhead ducks, black terns, and Forster’s Terns, to name a few.  Muskrats will also make use of bulrush beds as a source of food and building materials.  Come fall, the seeds of bulrush attract many species of duck to power their southern migration.

Hardstem bulrush Schoenoplectus acutus Bed
Hardstem Bulrush Bed on the Fox River, WI with White Water-Lily.

Biology and ecology of Hardstem Bulrush

Hardstem bulrush, like its close cousin softstem bulrush, and three square bulrush.  Have very specific requirements for seed germination.  The small seeds are tough and can withstand decades of waiting for the proper conditions to germinate.  Those conditions are exposed to soil, and warm temperatures after at least one season of cold treatment (winter).  Typically these occur during drought years.  The seeds of these species will not germinate, underwater.  If a very young seedling is covered with water after germination it is not likely to survive.  One of hardstem bulrushes greatest problems is artificial water level management that prevents these sorts of drought conditions.

Bulrush reproduction
Natural reproduction of bulrush by seed during a drought, compared to my size 13 boot

Because of the strict requirements for germination and early growth of these bulrushes, most reproduction occurs vegetatively.  The plants send out rhizomes from the parent plant and new shoots.  This can occur under most water level conditions, but growth is greatest in shallow water or saturated soil conditions in the dry season or drought years.

Bulrush Use by Native Americans

Harstem and other bulrushes were very useful to Native Americans.  They ate the tender, white base of the stem, raw.  Rhizomes (roots) were eaten raw or boiled.  They were also dried, pounded into flour, and baked into bread.  Seeds were also eaten.

Stems made great material for weaving into mats, window coverings, baskets, and houses.  There were also used to secure clothing and wrap sandals.