Juncus acutus L. ssp. leopoldii (Parl.) Snog.

=Juncus acutus var. sphaerocarpus

Juncaceae (Rush Family)


Sharp-Leaved Rush

                                      December Photo


Plant Characteristics:  Perennial, in large tufts, 6-12 dm. high, with stout, rigid, pungent stems; lvs. all basal, terete, nearly as long as stems, the sheaths inflated, brownish; auricles (ear shaped appendages) from scarcely developed to several mm. high, cartilaginous; lowest bract of infl. foliose, 5-15 cm. long, stout, spinescent; infl. paniculate, with unequal branches, 5-20 cm. long; fls. 2-4 in small clusters; perianth-segms., pale brown, lanceolate, 2-4 mm. long, shining, indurate; caps subglobose, ca. 5 mm. long; seeds finely reticulate, obovoid.


Habitat:  Moist saline places; Coastal Salt Marsh, San Louis Obispo Co. to L. Calif.; Alkaline Sink, Colo. Desert; Ariz.  Below 300 m.  May-June.


Name:  Latin name for rush, perhaps from jungere, to bind, the stems used for binding.  (Munz, Flora So. Calif. 1401).  Latin, acutus, sharp, pointed.  (Jaeger 6).


General:  Common throughout the study area.  Photographed at North Star Beach, Back Bay Dr. and 23rd Street.  (my comments).      Used by the Indians for basked warps and wefts (foundations and wrapping), especially in southern California.  (Heizer & Elsasser 135).          One of the native halophytes listed by Zedler as occurring in Upper Newport Bay.  (Zedler 16).      For a complete list of these halophytes and others that occur in Upper Newport Bay, see Spartina foliosa. (my comment).       Distributional changes of species with elevation can be described at the small-scale or individual-marsh level.  Because most of the halophytes rely on vegetative reproduction (rather than seedling establishment) for area spread, discrete patches and boundaries can be seen in the marsh. (Zedler 15).        Spike rush, Juncus acutus, may have formed a conspicuous band around the upper marsh of pre-1900 wetlands, but only remnant populations are now found in southern California.  Its clump of long, sharp, stiff leaves and tall, dark, flowering stalks are unmistakable features of the species.  Its distribution may correspond with lower soil salinities, though ecological studies are lacking.  (Zedler 30-33)           A genus of over 200 spp., mostly temperate.  Often growing in meadows and swales mixed with grasses and sedges and of some economic importance for hay and pasture.  (Munz, Flora So. Calif. 909).       The Chumash Indians, who lived in the area that is now Santa Barbara, used four species of Juncus in basket making.  This was virtually the only plant used for this purpose and the baskets served in numerous vital roles in daily life, as well as being a highly developed art form.  (Timbrook, J. "Chumash Ethnobotany: A Preliminary Report".  Journal of Ethnobiology, December 1984, 141-169).       The Cahuilla Indians who inhabited the Colorado Desert, the San Jacinto  and San Bernardino Mountains, used several species of Juncus to make baskets.   A description of how J. lesuerii was used is as follows: The scape and leaves are two to four feet high, or more, stout and pungent.  A supply of these tough scapes is gathered by the basket maker and cut off at a suitable length. She then takes a rush by one end and with her teeth splits it into three equal portions.  Each scape thus furnishes three withes.  The reed is, near its base, of a deep red, lightening in color upwards, passing through several shades of light brown, and ending at the top in a brownish yellow.  Thus this bulrush, in its natural state, furnishes a variety of colors.  The materials were also dyed black. (Bean & Saubel 80).       One term in the literature that has sometimes been considered synonymous with Juncus is the Indian word maiswat.  The maiswat plant was used to make the ceremonial bundle.  If rush was ever used for this purpose, the usage was probably recent, since the Cahuilla creation myth suggests maiswat was a type of seaweed.  In the Cahuilla cosmogony, maiswat was first utilized for making an effigy of the creator-god Mukat for ceremonies that followed his death.  According to Lucille Hooper (interviewed in 1920).  "When they were ready to hold the fiesta (in memory of Mukat), Coyote told them he knew what to make effigies of, and offered to go to the end of the world to get it.  Misvut (a seaweed) is what he got.  It grew far under the water.  It had probably been made in the beginning for this purpose."  (Bean and Saubel 80).        The scapes of Juncus acutus do not have the varied colors described above for J. lesuerii and are a uniform white inside from end to end.  (my comment).


Text Ref:  Hickman, Ed. 1159; Munz, Calif. Flora 1405; Munz, Flora So. Calif. 910; Roberts 43.

Photo Ref:  Dec 1 82 # 26A,28A; April-May 84 # 2; Sept 97 # 8A.

Identity: by R. De Ruff.

First Found:  December 1982.


Computer Ref:  Plant Data 64.

Have plant specimen.

Last edit 6/9/04.


                                       September Photo