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Unbranched Bur-reed

Sparganium emersum

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Sparganiaceae (Bur-reed)
Also in this family:
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Bogs, ditches, ponds, swamps, water, waterside, wetland.

Green, no petals
Similar to Branched Bur-reed (Sparganium erectum) but with far fewer flowerheads. However, the main difference is that the flowerheads are unbranched. Unbranched Bur-reed is also a shorter plant than Branched Bur-reed. Wind-pollinated.
Spherical burr-like, spiky. The fruits are with slender beaks.
Floating stems (up to 2 metres long) often producing parallel lines in rivers and streams. Some leaves are erect, emerging out of the water. Perennial.
Other Names:
European Bur-reed, Floating Bur-reed, Simple Bur-reed, Simplestem Bur-reed, Submerged Bur-reed.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Sparganium emersum, also known as submerged bur-reed or floating bur-reed, is a species of flowering plant in the family Typhaceae. It is native to North America and is commonly found in wetland areas, such as marshes, swamps, and along the edges of ponds and lakes. S. emersum is an aquatic perennial that grows to a height of up to 1.5 meters. It has long, narrow, green leaves and small, brown or green flowers that are surrounded by a dense, sausage-shaped inflorescence. The plant is valued for its medicinal properties and has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory problems and skin conditions. It is also used as a food source and is an important habitat plant for a variety of wildlife species. S. emersum is also grown as an ornamental plant in water gardens and is known for its ability to tolerate wet, muddy soil.


Unbranched Bur-reed (Sparganium emersum) is a species of aquatic perennial plant that belongs to the family Sparganiaceae. It is commonly found in shallow ponds, lakes, and other slow-moving bodies of water in North America, Europe, and Asia. The plant has a robust stem, typically growing up to 2m tall, with lance-shaped leaves that emerge from the water.

One of the defining features of the Unbranched Bur-reed is its large, globular, and air-filled inflorescence that resembles a ball floating on the water surface. These inflorescences can range in color from green to yellow, depending on the time of year, and are a popular food source for various species of birds and mammals, including ducks and beavers.

In addition to its ornamental value, the Unbranched Bur-reed also provides important ecological benefits. The plant serves as a crucial food source for aquatic organisms, providing habitat and shelter for small fish and invertebrates. The plant's roots also help to filter pollutants from the water, making it a valuable tool in the effort to maintain clean waterways.

Despite its widespread distribution and ecological importance, the Unbranched Bur-reed is considered a non-invasive species, meaning it does not pose a significant threat to native ecosystems. As such, it is often used in the restoration of wetlands and other aquatic habitats, as well as in the creation of constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment.

Cultivation of Unbranched Bur-reed is relatively easy and the plant can be grown in a variety of conditions, making it a popular choice for water gardens, ponds, and other aquatic landscapes. It can be propagated either by dividing the root mass or by collecting and planting seeds.

The plant prefers full sun to partial shade and can tolerate a wide range of soils, as long as the water is relatively clean and clear. It is important to note that Unbranched Bur-reed is not tolerant of water pollution and will not grow in areas with high levels of contaminants.

Unbranched Bur-reed is a slow-growing plant and can take several years to reach its full height. However, once established, it requires minimal care and maintenance. The plant is relatively drought tolerant and can survive in low water levels, although it does prefer to grow in consistently moist soil.

In some regions, Unbranched Bur-reed may become invasive, so it is important to keep an eye on its growth and prevent it from spreading too far from its intended location. This can be done by removing any root masses or seeds that may become dislodged from the parent plant.

In addition to its use in the landscape, Unbranched Bur-reed has also been used for various medicinal purposes by indigenous peoples for centuries. For example, the root of the plant was traditionally used to treat various ailments, including fevers, infections, and digestive problems. While these uses have not been scientifically proven, they serve as a testament to the cultural and historical significance of the plant.

Another important aspect of Unbranched Bur-reed is its role in water management. The plant has a strong ability to absorb and retain water, making it an effective tool for reducing erosion, stabilizing shorelines, and controlling water levels. This makes it a valuable species for use in wetland restoration projects, erosion control measures, and other water management efforts.

The plant is also an important source of organic matter, contributing to the overall health and fertility of the soil and water systems in which it grows. This organic matter provides essential nutrients to other aquatic and terrestrial species, improving overall ecosystem health and productivity.

It is worth noting that the plant may become a nuisance in some cases, particularly when it spreads beyond its intended location. In these instances, Unbranched Bur-reed can be managed or removed by various methods, including cutting or mowing, chemical treatments, and manual removal of the roots and stems.

In conclusion, Unbranched Bur-reed is a valuable species with a wide range of ecological, ornamental, and practical benefits. Whether you are interested in water management, wetland restoration, or simply enjoying the beauty of this unique plant, Unbranched Bur-reed is well worth considering for your next project. With proper care and management, this species can provide a range of benefits for years to come.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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