Sunday, September 12, 2010


Early fall is a time I enjoy re-visiting several favorite local wetlands. By now the winterberry bushes growing on pond shores are loaded with bright red berries, small flocks of birds -- ducks, waxwings, warblers, sparrows  -- gather to store up fat reserves for their flights south, turtles basking on logs soak up solar rays before they spend the winter buried in the pond bottom, and emergent plants are changing colors just like the maples and birches.

One wetland-loving plant that always catches my eye anytime of year is bur-reed. The narrow, linear leaves resemble iris or cattail. Bur-reed grows to about 1-2 feet tall in small colonies near the water's edge.

Bur-reed colony at a pond edge

It's the flowers and fruits of bur-reed, or Sparganium, that are unique. The round female and male flowers are borne on a branched zigzagging stem. The bigger, greenish female flowers below and the smaller, whitish male flowers near the tip. The female flower develops into a beaked nutlet or bur.

Bur-reed leaves changing color in September

Ducks and rails eat the nutlets and muskrats like the entire plant.
Fruits of bur-reed, Sparganium eurycarpum

Earlier this summer when I visited these local wetlands, the bur-reed was just flowering.

Bur-reed flowering in early June

Bur-reed in early June, flowers not yet open.

You can see that all during the growing season, bur-reed is a curious plant. You may overlook the leaves, but look closer and you'll see the zigzag stems with its round flowers or spikey fruits.

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