By: Alyssa Nyberg, Efroymson Restoration at Kankakee Sands
Rain soaked and exhausted, I stand at the edge of a wetland. My hair is plastered to my face, my shirt is askew, and my jeans are heavy with water and mud. At this moment, I am far from the epitome of "marsh grace". But the short green plant before me, Eleocharis obtusa, is exactly "marsh grace".
Eleocharis obtusa, or blunt spike rush, was named for its elegance. Eleocharis is derived from the Greek word helodes, which means "growing in marshes" and charis, defined as "grace". The plant is so simple. A single green flowering stalk with one spikelet perched atop the stem. Elegant simplicity.
Blunt spike rush typically forms dense clumps of multiple flowering stems which stand very straight and rigid. The stems are round and hollow, as rush stems characteristically are. The height of plants can vary, ranging from a mere two inches in height to ten inches in height. Just a green clump of joy, springing from the earth.
Because it is wind pollinated, the flowers of blunt spike rush do not need to be showy to attract pollinators. The flowers are reduced to pollen producing stamens and pollen receiving pistils. Though easily overlooked when in flower, it has a long flowering period of May through September.
Once pollinated, the flowers form 1 mm seeds, light to dark brown in color and lenticular in shape. Upon the top of each seed is a small triangular cap. From the base of each seed extends long bristles which extend past the cap. Although the plant's growth form is simple, the seed structure is quite elaborate.
There are twenty-one species of Eleocharis growing in the Chicagoland area, all of which grow in moist to wet soil conditions. Eleven of those species can be found at Kankakee Sands, growing in our wet prairie restorations. Blunt spike rush is one of the most common rushes you will find at Kankakee Sands. It can be found growing on the edges of wetlands, in marshy ground, in moist flat areas, around artificial ponds and wet disturbed areas, and in wet fire breaks.
Blunt spike rush is an annual, which keeps things exciting; you never know where it might pop up from one year to the next. Because we are hoping to include one quarter of a pound of this plant's seeds into our restoration plantings this year, I have hiked out to this wetland area in Unit D of Kankakee Sands with the hopes of finding it and harvesting its seeds.
Now that I have found it, I shall pick a portion of its grace. To reach one quarter of a pound, we will need 502,000 seeds. I will pick a fraction of that amount from the patch of seeds here, and then try to locate several other patches from which to pick seed. In this way, we will provide genetic diversity in our restoration plantings, making them stronger and more resilient over time. After harvesting the seeds and putting them in a paper sack, I will take the seed to our Kankakee Sands Barn for drying, weighing and storing until this winter when we will spread them out in the restorations, making yet another wetland at Kankakee Sands all the more graceful.
Should you ever be feeling a little exhausted or less than elegant, come for a hike at Kankakee Sands and enjoy a little bit of marsh grace for yourself.
The Nature Conservancy's Kankakee Sands is 10,000 acres of prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana and Northeast Illinois, open every day of the year for public enjoyment. The Nature Conservancy in an international, non-profit organization. For more information about Kankakee Sands, visit www.nature.org/KankakeeSands or call the office at 219-285-2184.