Wednesday Weed – Flowering Rush

Flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus)

Dear Readers, do you have a plant that’s your nemesis? A plant that, although on paper ideally suited to your garden, refuses to thrive? Such a plant is flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus). This seems perfect for my garden – it’s a marginal, so I should just be able to pop it alongside the pond, but the poor thing is always miserable. I have tried it in various locations, and have come to the conclusion that it must be the lack of direct sunlight, even though I have put it in the brightest part of my north-facing garden.

Photo One by Zoran Gavrilović, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo One

This is a plant that seems to have everything to recommend it to a wildlife gardener. The flowers attract a variety of pollinators, and the stems and leaves provide somewhere for dragon and damselfly larvae to cling to as they metamorphose. It is a native plant, although it is not technically a rush – it is the sole member of the flowering-rush family, Butomaceae. Richard Mabey notes that an alternative name for the plant, ‘Pride of the Thames’, is no longer so relevant – the dredging of rivers and the straightening of their banks has destroyed much of the habitat that the plant relied on. As a species we do seem to like things neat and tidy, and sadly that has ruined the biodiversity of many areas. These days, you are most likely to see flowering rush on the Norfolk Broads or the Somerset Levels, where in addition to its beauty and attraction to pollinators, it provides cover for fish such as pike.

In the USA, however, it has become an invasive species, probably because there is a lot of suitable habitat. The plant can make it difficult for animals to reach the water, and it provides cover for a number of voracious introduced fish species. However the Iroquois people use the plant as a de-wormer for cattle and horses, so it clearly isn’t all bad.

Photo Two by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

A fine stand of flowering rush (Photo Two)

As far as humans are concerned, flowering rush has provided a green or yellow dye. The Yakut people of Russia called the plant ‘bread-flower’, and made flour from its rhizomes until they came into contact with wheat – until then, the plant was their main source of carbohydrates, and the roots are a very rich source of starch.

And finally, a poem. I’m not sure if the rush in the poem is ‘our’ rush, but as this is Seamus Heaney, it will do.

Cairn-maker

For Barrie Cooke

He robbed the stones’ nests, uncradled
As he orphaned and betrothed rock
To rock: his unaccustomed hand

Went chambering upon hillock

And bogland. Clamping, balancing,
That whole day spent in the Burren,
He did not find and add to them

But piled up small cairn after cairn

And dressed some stones with his own mark.
Which he tells of with almost fear;

And of strange affiliation

To what was touched and handled there,

Unexpected hives and castlings
Pennanted now, claimed by no hand:

Rush and ladysmock , heather-bells
Blowing in each aftermath of wind.

But do let me know, readers. Which are the plants that you should be able to grow, but that just don’t work for you? And any ideas on my flowering rush would also be most gratefully received.

Photo Credits

Photo One by Zoran Gavrilović, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Two by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

6 thoughts on “Wednesday Weed – Flowering Rush

  1. Fran & Bobby Freelove

    The only thing i can think of is that it likes a good silty mud below the water, somewhere where it can spread it’s roots. It needs to be a good eight inches below the surface of the water.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thanks Fran and Bobby. Maybe I’ll have one more go – I’ve been planting it on the shelf at the side of the pond so maybe I just need to throw it into the shallow end!

      Reply
  2. Ann Bronkhorst

    The poem is interesting and one of his I’d not read. Takes several readings and some grasp of the landscape and work with stones that are being described. I like how he uses the lightest of touches to suggest the man’s sensitivity to the displaced plants.

    Reply
  3. oneforestfragment

    How do you know it is miserable? If it doesn’t flower there may be a reason genetically. I looked it up and it certainly is invasive here in the US, but there are apparently 2 genotypes and one of
    them flowers only rarely. I agree with you about maybe needing more sun, and the suggestion for planting deeper in the wetland.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Ah thank you, I would much rather it wasn’t miserable :-). Also, as with some plants it wouldn’t surprise me if it suddenly decided that the conditions were right for flowering after several years of getting ready. Flowering is quite an expensive activity for plants after all. And thanks for the heads-up about the genotypes, I had no idea…

      Reply

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