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Branched Bur-reed

Sparganium erectum

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Sparganiaceae (Bur-reed)
Also in this family:
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
1 metre tall

Green, no petals
Globular spiky green flowerheads in a branched spike.
Spherical burr-like, spiky.
Broad, 3-sided leaves, similar in appearance to Iris leaves. Floating leaves are rare.
Other Names:
Common Bur-reed, European Bur-reed.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Sparganium erectum, also known as branched bur-reed or common 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. erectum 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. erectum is also grown as an ornamental plant in water gardens and is known for its ability to tolerate wet, muddy soil.


Branched Bur-reed (Sparganium erectum) is a species of aquatic plant commonly found in freshwater ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. It is a member of the Sparganiaceae family, which includes other bur-reeds and rush-like plants.

The branched bur-reed has several stems that arise from a thick rhizome and can grow up to 6 feet tall. Its leaves are long, narrow and flat, and its flowers are arranged in small, dense spikes that resemble a bottlebrush. The spikes of flowers are typically green and inconspicuous, but they are surrounded by bracts, or modified leaves, that are bright white, making them more noticeable.

This plant is well adapted to life in the water and has several features that allow it to thrive in aquatic environments. Its leaves are covered with a thick cuticle, which helps to reduce water loss, and its stems are tough and flexible, allowing them to sway in the water without breaking. The plant also has an extensive system of root-like rhizomes that anchor it in the mud and provide it with stability.

Branched bur-reed is an important species for wetland ecology, as it provides habitat and food for many aquatic animals, such as insects, fish, and waterfowl. Its dense stands of stems provide cover and nesting sites for aquatic birds, and its leaves and stems are a food source for waterfowl, muskrats, and other herbivores.

In addition to its ecological value, branched bur-reed also has several uses for humans. It is commonly used in freshwater aquariums as a natural filtration system, as its roots and leaves help to remove excess nutrients and other pollutants from the water. It is also sometimes used in landscaping, as a border plant for ponds and water gardens.

The branched bur-reed is a hardy plant that can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions, including fluctuating water levels and changes in water quality. It is also able to tolerate a variety of soil types, including sandy and silty soils, and can grow in areas with high levels of sedimentation.

Despite its hardiness, branched bur-reed is considered threatened or endangered in some areas due to the destruction and degradation of wetland habitats. It is important to protect and conserve remaining populations of this species, as it plays a critical role in maintaining the health and biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems.

One of the key factors in conserving branched bur-reed is proper land use management. This can include the protection of existing wetlands, the creation of new wetland habitats, and the restoration of degraded wetland areas. It is also important to control the spread of invasive species that can outcompete native plants, such as phragmites and purple loosestrife.

Another important factor in conserving branched bur-reed is monitoring populations and conducting research on its ecology and life cycle. This includes studying its reproduction, growth, and distribution patterns, as well as its interactions with other species and its role in the ecosystem.

It is also worth mentioning that branched bur-reed has been used for various traditional medicinal purposes by indigenous people. The plant has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including skin conditions, respiratory problems, and digestive issues. However, it is important to note that the use of plants for medicinal purposes should be done under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional, as some plants can be toxic or have adverse effects if used improperly.

In addition to its medicinal uses, branched bur-reed has also been used for ornamental purposes, and its white bracts have been used in dried flower arrangements. The plant is also valued for its role in erosion control, as its extensive root system helps to stabilize shorelines and prevent erosion.

In terms of cultivation, branched bur-reed is relatively easy to grow, provided that the correct conditions are provided. It prefers shallow water, with a depth of up to 2 feet, and can be planted in areas with full sun or partial shade. When planting, it is important to use a soil mix that is rich in organic matter, such as compost or peat moss, and to plant the rhizomes in the mud or sediment at the bottom of the pond or lake.

In conclusion, branched bur-reed is a versatile and valuable plant species that plays a crucial role in freshwater ecosystems and has a range of uses and benefits for both people and the environment. By protecting and conserving its populations and habitats, and by using sustainable land use practices, we can help ensure the continued survival and success of this important species.


Branched Bur-reed filmed in the following locations:
  • Wigan, Lancashire (Leeds and Liverpool Canal): 7th August 2022 and 5th July 2023
  • Capernwray, Lancashire (Lancaster Canal): 8th July 2023

Music credits
Meditation Impromptu 02 by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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