An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

American Bur-reed Flowering

7-23-18 bur weedAmerican Bur-reed, Sparganium americanum, is an aquatic, perennial plant that grows two to four feet high and looks a lot like a grass due to its narrow leaves (but isn’t).  This member of the Cattail family grows in shallow water (up to a foot deep) in marshes and along muddy shorelines.  The flower stem forms a zig-zag pattern with flower clusters at each stem juncture.   The large, spherical female flowers are located on the lower part of the stem, with the smaller male flowers at the top.

Considered an important plant for conservation purposes, American Bur-reed has the ability to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from wetlands.  It can help prevent eutrophication by lessening the buildup of nitrogen (often from agricultural land) and phosphorus (households, industry) from runoff.

American Bur-reed spreads rapidly through its underground root systems of rhizomes, and is relied upon by many birds as an important source of food.  Waterfowl, including Mallards, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Greater Scaup, Buffleheads, Canvasbacks, American Wigeons and Blue-winged Teal, consume the seeds, as do Soras, Virginia Rails and Wilson’s Snipe. Muskrats eat the entire plant. (Thanks to Kay Shumway for photo op.)

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5 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    So it’s welcome, not invasive?

    July 25, 2018 at 7:58 am

  2. Tom Jones

    Mary – to start with, I live for your posts; I am a transplant from NC (4 yrs) & you have taught me much. I have worked many years in aquatic nutrient removal/contamination from agriculture. My point means little in New England (NC is #2 in hogs & #1 in poultry production), but it has always been thought that phosphorus stays tightly bound to soil, & so only leaves fields through erosion. However, research has found that under saturated conditions – especially when liquid animal waste is land applied (ie from dairy lagoons for fertilizing corn) – phosphorus does indeed become soluble & moves with water through soil & into surface water/groundwater. just some trivia for fun. Yours, Tom (Piscataquog Land Conservancy, New Boston NH).

    July 25, 2018 at 8:13 am

    • Thank you so much for this information – much appreciated!

      July 25, 2018 at 1:57 pm

  3. Very interesting (as usual!) I’ve never noticed this one – I’ll have to look for it. Are there other aquatic plants with the ability to remove phosphorus and nitrogen from water?
    This seems really important. Do you know if these plants are being introduced into marshes, ponds, and lakes where they’re not already growing (and in particular, into places where eutrophication is a big problem?

    July 25, 2018 at 9:21 am

  4. harriette griffin

    Why don’t we have this plant growing all down the coastline????

    July 25, 2018 at 1:55 pm

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