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Northern Spike-rush

Eleocharis austriaca

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Cyperaceae (Sedge)
Also in this family:
American Galingale, Birdsfoot Sedge, Black Alpine Sedge, Black Bog-rush, Bladder Sedge, Bog Sedge, Bottle Sedge, Bristle Club-rush, Bristle Sedge, Broad-leaved Cotton-grass, Brown Beak-sedge, Brown Bog-rush, Chestnut Rush, Close-headed Alpine Sedge, Club Sedge, Common Club-rush, Common Cotton-grass, Common Sedge, Common Spike-rush, Curved Sedge, Deergrass, Dioecious Sedge, Distant Sedge, Divided Sedge, Dotted Sedge, Downy-fruited Sedge, Dwarf Sedge, Dwarf Spike-rush, Estuarine Sedge, False Fox Sedge, False Sedge, Few-flowered Sedge, Few-flowered Spike-rush, Fibrous Tussock Sedge, Fingered Sedge, Flat Sedge, Flea Sedge, Floating Club-rush, Gingerbread Sedge, Glaucous Sedge, Great Fen Sedge, Greater Pond Sedge, Greater Tussock Sedge, Green-ribbed Sedge, Grey Club-rush, Grey Sedge, Hair Sedge, Hairy Sedge, Haresfoot Sedge, Hare's-tail Cotton-grass, Heath Sedge, Hop Sedge, Large Yellow Sedge, Lesser Pond Sedge, Lesser Tussock Sedge, Long-bracted Sedge, Many-stalked Spike-rush, Mountain Bog Sedge, Needle Spike-rush, Northern Deergrass, Oval Sedge, Pale Sedge, Pendulous Sedge, Perennial Sedge, Pill Sedge, Prickly Sedge, Remote Sedge, Rock Sedge, Round-headed Club-rush, Russet Sedge, Salt Sedge, Sand Sedge, Scorched Alpine Sedge, Sea Club-rush, Sheathed Sedge, Slender Club-rush, Slender Cotton-grass, Slender Sedge, Slender Spike-rush, Slender Tufted Sedge, Smooth-stalked Sedge, Soft-leaved Sedge, Spiked Sedge, Spring Sedge, Star Sedge, Starved Wood Sedge, Stiff Sedge, String Sedge, Sweet Galingale, Tall Bog Sedge, Tawny Sedge, Thin-spiked Wood Sedge, Triangular Club-rush, True Fox Sedge, Tufted Sedge, Water Sedge, White Beak-sedge, White Sedge, Wood Club-rush, Wood Sedge, Yellow Sedge
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Ditches, fens, gardens, marshes, meadows, mud, waterside, wetland.

Brown, no petals
A solitary, compact, conical, pointed, short flower spike.
The fruit is an achene. It is a type of dry, one-seeded fruit surrounded by scales.
Thread-like leaves. The green stems are brittle and erect. A rare species.
Other Names:
Annual Spikerush, Spikesedge.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Other Information


Eleocharis austriaca, also known as spikesedge or annual spikerush, is a species of flowering plant in the Cyperaceae family. It is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa and commonly found in wetland habitats such as marshes, fens, and wet meadows. It grows to a height of 20-60 cm and has long, thin, green leaves and a spike-like inflorescence with small flowers. It is often used in landscaping and horticulture as an ornamental grass.


The Northern Spike-rush (Eleocharis austriaca) is a common plant species found throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. It is a small, grass-like plant that grows in wetlands, marshes, and along the edges of streams and ponds. In this blog, we will take a closer look at this fascinating plant, including its physical characteristics, habitat, and ecological importance.

Physical Characteristics

The Northern Spike-rush is a perennial plant that typically grows between 20 and 60 centimeters in height. It has thin, round stems that are green or brown in color, and it produces long, narrow leaves that grow up to 15 centimeters in length. The plant's flowers are small, brown or green in color, and they grow in clusters at the ends of the stems.


As mentioned, the Northern Spike-rush is found in wetland areas, such as bogs, fens, and swamps. It prefers soils that are moist, but not completely submerged, and it can tolerate a range of pH levels. The plant is adapted to live in waterlogged soils and is often found in areas that experience seasonal flooding. It is also well-suited to survive in areas with low nutrient levels, making it a useful species for wetland restoration projects.

Ecological Importance

The Northern Spike-rush is an important species in wetland ecosystems. It plays a crucial role in stabilizing soil and preventing erosion in these areas. The plant's root system helps to hold soil in place, while its above-ground stems and leaves provide protection from the forces of wind and water. Additionally, the plant provides habitat and food for a variety of species, including insects, birds, and small mammals.

The Northern Spike-rush is also important in terms of its ability to filter water. Wetlands are natural water filters, and the plants that grow in them help to remove pollutants and excess nutrients from the water. The Northern Spike-rush, with its dense root system, is particularly effective at removing excess nitrogen and phosphorus from the water, which can reduce the risk of harmful algal blooms and other water quality problems.

Conservation Status

The Northern Spike-rush is not considered a threatened species, but it is still important to protect and conserve wetland habitats to ensure the survival of this and other wetland species. Wetlands are under threat from a variety of human activities, including development, agriculture, and pollution. Protecting and restoring wetland habitats can help to ensure the long-term survival of the Northern Spike-rush and other wetland species.

The Northern Spike-rush is a small but important plant species that plays a crucial role in wetland ecosystems. It provides habitat and food for a variety of species, helps to stabilize soil, and filters water to improve water quality. It is a great example of the important ecological functions that can be provided by even the smallest and most unassuming plant species. Protecting and conserving wetland habitats is essential to ensure the long-term survival of this and other wetland species.

More Information

Here are some additional interesting facts about the Northern Spike-rush:

  1. The Northern Spike-rush is part of the sedge family (Cyperaceae), which includes many other important wetland plants.

  2. The plant gets its common name from its tall, spike-like flower clusters that resemble spikes or brushes.

  3. The Northern Spike-rush is a pioneer species, meaning it is one of the first plants to colonize newly-formed wetland areas.

  4. The plant is able to grow in waterlogged soils because it has a specialized tissue called aerenchyma that allows for gas exchange between the roots and the air.

  5. The Northern Spike-rush has been used for a variety of traditional medicinal purposes, including treating coughs, colds, and other respiratory problems.

  6. The plant's seeds are an important food source for a variety of water birds, including ducks and geese.

  7. The Northern Spike-rush has been used in wetland restoration projects because of its ability to stabilize soil and filter water.

  8. The plant is also useful for erosion control, and it has been planted in ditches and other areas prone to erosion.

Overall, the Northern Spike-rush is an important and fascinating plant species that is integral to the health of wetland ecosystems. Its ability to stabilize soil and filter water make it a valuable asset in wetland restoration and conservation efforts. As such, it is important to continue to study and protect this and other wetland plant species to ensure the long-term health of wetland ecosystems.

Even More Information

Here are a few more interesting facts about the Northern Spike-rush:

  1. The Northern Spike-rush is sometimes called "tassel sedge" or "tufted sedge" due to the appearance of its flower clusters.

  2. The plant is sometimes used for erosion control in coastal areas, where its ability to stabilize soil can help protect against storm surge and coastal flooding.

  3. The Northern Spike-rush is adapted to tolerate fire, and it can regenerate quickly in burned areas.

  4. The plant is known to have allelopathic effects, which means it releases chemicals that can inhibit the growth of other plants in its vicinity.

  5. In addition to its ecological importance, the Northern Spike-rush has cultural significance in some Indigenous communities. For example, in the Mi'kmaq tradition, the plant is used as a medicine for treating kidney and bladder problems.

  6. The Northern Spike-rush is an important component of the food web in wetland ecosystems. It provides food and habitat for a variety of insects and other invertebrates, which are in turn eaten by larger animals like fish, amphibians, and birds.

  7. Like other wetland plants, the Northern Spike-rush is threatened by habitat loss and degradation due to human activities like development, agriculture, and resource extraction. Conservation efforts are important to protect this and other wetland species from further decline.

Overall, the Northern Spike-rush is a fascinating plant with important ecological and cultural significance. Its ability to stabilize soil and filter water makes it a valuable asset in wetland restoration and conservation efforts, and it plays an important role in the food web of wetland ecosystems. As we continue to learn more about the plant and its role in wetland ecosystems, it is important to work towards protecting and conserving wetland habitats to ensure the survival of this and other wetland species.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

Click to open an Interactive Map