Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Aggresive bulrush

Southern bulrush Typha domingensis
The lesser bulrush is a large aquatic plant found in southern Europe, North Africa and in many parts of Asia and the American continent.

It is rare in the Maltese islands because the aquatic habitat which it requires is very rare. One can see it in valleys behind man-made dams and in artificial ponds and pools.

About eleven species of bulrush can be found most of them restricted to the Northern Hemisphere. Only one of them occurs in the Maltese islands.

In Maltese the lesser bulrush is known as buda. In England bulrushes are also known as reedmace. In America they have several names including catnail and catninetail.

The plant grows from an underground rhizome. Above ground it consists of long sword-like leaves. The flowers consist of a thin vertical spike on which male flowers form. Beneath this is a thicker sausage-shaped inflorescence with female flowers. Female flowers form after the male flowers have shed their pollen, withered and died. This avoids self-fertilisation. 

In Turkey and some other countries the female inflorescence of the lesser bulrush is used to treat wounds. Recent studies have confirmed that these medicinal properties can be effective and are not just folk beliefs.

Bulrushes are aggressive, in some areas they can become the dominant species to the detriment of other plant species. Several species can grow in one area with the different species adapted to live at different depths.

The bulrush plant has many uses. It can be eaten, it has medicinal properties, and the leaves can be used as insulation for houses and to make decorative paper.

The plants’ rhizomes are rich in starch. They are edible and can be ground into a powder. Starchy remains of ground bulrush tubers have been found on prehistoric grinding stones suggesting that they have been consumed in Europe for as far back as 30,000 years ago. Other communities eat other parts of the plants. The developing flower-heads can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. The seeds are rich in linoleic acid and are used as cattle and chicken feed.

This article was published in The Times of Malta on 31 July 2013.

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