Rushes

Juncus spp. and Luzula spp.

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Photo of path rush, closeup showing drying fruits.
Path rush fruits are rounded capsules with many seeds. Note the pointy, spreading sepals and petals.
Ohio State Weed Lab Archive, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org
Family

Juncaceae (rushes)

Description

Rushes are mostly perennial, nonwoody plants. Stems are round in cross-section but not hollow. Leaves are alternate or all basal, grasslike or tubular, and expanded at the base into open or closed sheaths around the stems. Leaves of genus Juncus lack hairs; those of genus Luzula have hairs. Flowers have 3 sepals that are green or tan, and 3 petals that resemble the sepals. Each flower has 1 ovary, which matures into a capsule, round in cross-section, that splits apart lengthwise into 3 sections when mature. Each capsule can hold 3 (genus Luzula) or many (genus Juncus) seeds.

Similar species: Grass family plants differ by having hollow stems, 2-ranked leaves, highly specialized flowers that lack apparent petals and sepals, and fruits that are grains. Sedge family plants have triangular stems, 3-ranked leaves with closed sheaths, flowers enclosed by scalelike bracts but no petals or sepals, and nutlike fruits called achenes.

Size

Height: some species can be over 4 feet tall; most are shorter.

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Photo of blooming soft rush plants.
Soft Rush (Bog Rush)
Soft rush grows throughout Missouri and, like most other rushes, lives in wet environments.

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Photo of path rush, showing top portion of plants.
Path Rush (Poverty Rush, Slender Rush)
Path rush is one of the most common rushes in Missouri. It grows in a variety of disturbed habitats — including paths!

path_rush_fruits_3-16-15.jpg

Photo of path rush, closeup showing fruits.
Path Rush (Poverty Rush, Slender Rush)
In path rush, the longest leaflike bract at the base of each flower cluster is longer than the entire flower cluster.

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Photo of blooming soft rush flower clusters.
Soft Rush (Bog Rush)
Soft rush flowers are in branching panicles. These clusters look like they’re growing from the side of the stem.

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Photo of soft rush stems showing dense, clustering habit.
Soft Rush (Bog Rush)
Soft rush grows in dense clusters of stems. Its only true leaves are sheaths around the stem bases.

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Photo of lower portion of soft rush plants growing in shallow water.
Soft Rush (Bog Rush)
Soft rush often occurs in large, dense clumps. Like other rushes, its stems are round in cross-section but not hollow.

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Photo of soft rush, closeup showing newly emerging flower cluster.
Soft Rush (Bog Rush)
Soft rush can have 50 to more than 150 individual flowers in a single cluster, each with true sepals and petals.
Habitat and conservation

Of the two genera in Missouri, Juncus species usually occur in wetlands or other moist habitats. Luzula (wood rush) species are usually associated with drier land, and our one species is no exception. As with grasses and sedges, rushes can be tricky to identify to species. Botanists examine details of mature fruits and the bracts beneath the little flowers to key out specimens. The spongy tissue in the center of rush and sedge stalks permits air to reach the roots of these often aquatic plants.

image of Rushes distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide. Some species are fairly widespread and common. Others are rare or limited to certain parts of the state.

Status

Missouri has 23 species in the genus Juncus and 1 species (with 3 subspecies) in the genus Luzula. Three of the Juncus species are known only from historical records but might still be rediscovered in the state. Five more are state-listed as critically imperiled.

Human connections

Missouri has 23 species in the genus Juncus and 1 species (with 3 subspecies) in the genus Luzula. Three of the Juncus species are known only from historical records but might still be rediscovered in the state. Five more are state-listed as critically imperiled.

Ecosystem connections

Rushes are important members of many prairie and wetland communities. Most are good for erosion control and some are effective colonizers of disturbed habitats. The seeds, rootstocks, and foliage provide food for many kinds of animals.