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Least Bur-reed

Sparganium natans

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Typhaceae (Bulrush)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
30 centimetres tall
Ditches, ponds, water.

Green, no petals
Rounded, spiky flowerheads.
Green, globular, beaked and spiky.
Flat, linear, grass-like leaves. Similar to Floating Bur-reed (Sparganium angustifolium) but with narrower leaves and barely inflated at the base. The leaves are usually found floating on the surface of the water.
Other Names:
Floating Bur-reed, Small Bur-reed, Water Plantain.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Sparganium natans, also known as floating bur-reed or water plantain, 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. natans is an aquatic perennial that grows to a height of up to 1 meter. 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. natans is also grown as an ornamental plant in water gardens and is known for its ability to tolerate wet, muddy soil.


Sparganium natans, commonly known as the Least Bur-reed, is a species of aquatic plant that belongs to the Sparganium genus. It is a perennial plant that is widely distributed across North America and is commonly found in stagnant or slow-moving water bodies such as ponds, marshes, and swamps.

The Least Bur-reed is a unique plant that is characterized by its delicate, grass-like leaves and spikes of small, inconspicuous flowers. The leaves are long and slender, typically growing up to 30 cm in length, and are arranged in a spiral pattern around the stem. The flowers are arranged in spikes that emerge from the base of the plant and are typically white or light green in color.

One of the most distinctive features of the Least Bur-reed is its buoyant structure, which allows the plant to float on the surface of the water. This floating ability is an adaptation to its aquatic environment, allowing the plant to receive maximum exposure to sunlight for photosynthesis.

The Least Bur-reed is an important plant species in its aquatic ecosystem, providing habitat and food for a variety of aquatic animals such as insects, mollusks, and waterfowl. The plant is also an important source of food for some species of fish, who feed on the leaves and stems of the plant.

In addition to its ecological importance, the Least Bur-reed is also used for ornamental purposes in aquaria and water gardens. Its delicate appearance and unique floating habit make it a popular choice for decorating water bodies and creating a natural, aquatic environment.

Overall, the Least Bur-reed is a fascinating and unique aquatic plant that plays an important role in its aquatic ecosystem. Whether you are interested in its ecological significance or its ornamental value, this plant is definitely worth a closer look!

The Least Bur-reed is a hardy plant that can withstand a wide range of environmental conditions, including fluctuations in water levels, low nutrient levels, and fluctuating temperatures. It is also highly resistant to herbivores and pests, making it an ideal plant for areas with high populations of aquatic animals.

One of the key factors that contribute to the success of the Least Bur-reed is its ability to rapidly reproduce. The plant reproduces both sexually and asexually, producing seeds that can germinate quickly in favorable conditions, as well as producing vegetative shoots that can quickly colonize new areas. This rapid reproduction allows the plant to quickly spread and establish itself in new habitats.

In addition to its ecological and ornamental value, the Least Bur-reed also has a number of other uses. For example, it is commonly used as a bioindicator to monitor water quality in aquatic ecosystems. This is because the plant is sensitive to changes in water quality, including pH levels, nutrient levels, and the presence of pollutants.

Despite its hardiness and importance, the Least Bur-reed is not without its challenges. One of the biggest threats to the plant is the loss of its aquatic habitats due to human activities such as urbanization and water management practices. This loss of habitat can have a significant impact on the plant's population and distribution, leading to declines in its overall numbers.

To protect the Least Bur-reed and its habitats, it is important to implement effective conservation and management strategies. This may include preserving wetlands and other aquatic habitats, reducing pollution and other human impacts, and monitoring water quality in aquatic ecosystems.

It is also worth noting that the Least Bur-reed is a valuable resource for traditional cultures and indigenous peoples. For example, the plant has been used for medicinal purposes by indigenous peoples for generations, who use it to treat a variety of ailments such as skin conditions, digestive issues, and respiratory problems.

In addition to its medicinal uses, the Least Bur-reed is also an important source of materials for indigenous peoples. The plant's stems and leaves are often used to weave baskets and mats, while the seeds and roots are used as food. The plant's cultural significance and traditional uses highlight the important relationship between humans and the natural world, and the need to protect and preserve the plant for future generations.

Despite its cultural, ecological, and ornamental value, the Least Bur-reed remains largely unknown to the general public. This is partly due to its inconspicuous appearance and the fact that it is often overlooked in favor of more showy aquatic plants. To raise awareness about the plant and its importance, it is important to engage in public education and outreach initiatives, as well as to conduct research and monitoring programs to better understand its ecology and distribution.

In conclusion, the Least Bur-reed is a valuable and unique aquatic plant that has much to offer in terms of its ecological, ornamental, and cultural value. By working to protect and preserve its habitats, we can help ensure that this fascinating and important plant continues to thrive for generations to come. Whether you are a scientist, a nature enthusiast, or just someone who appreciates the beauty of the natural world, the Least Bur-reed is definitely worth exploring further!

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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