bulrush pic

Northeastern Bulrush

Editor’s note: The Courier Express, in collaboration with Lola M. Smith, MS, lecturer in biology at Penn State DuBois, is republishing a series of work completed by college students about endangered species in Pennsylvania. This is the final article in the series. References for the work, similar to a college research paper, are credited at the end for each article.

Scirpus ancistrochaetus, or more commonly known as Northeastern Bulrush, is a leafy perennial herb. It stands about 31.50 – 47.25 inches (80-120cm) in height (Copeyon 1993), and looks much like a tall grass. At the very top, there are spikelets, which are clusters of yellow-brown flowers (Copeyon 1993) that resemble small pine cones, or fireworks (PNH) . Each of the very small flowers has bristles, which have barbs. Flowering takes place from June through July, with seeds setting in July through September (Copeyon 1993). There are also rhizomes underground that provide as a base for a three-angled culm (stem) with very distinct, long leaves (Copeyon 1993). Eighteen leafy bulrush species exist in North America (Copeyon 1993). Unfortunately, this species in particular is endangered.

With only 50-60 populations existing, the majority of the occurrences are in Pennsylvania (PNHP). These populations are in Franklin, Cumberland, Union, Lycoming and Dauphin counties. Historically, Pennsylvania had occurrences in Blair, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Northampton and Monroe counties (Copeyon 1993). Northeastern Bulrush has a limited range due to specific habitat requirements. Those habitats capable of holding Northeastern Bulrush are wetlands, small ponds, wet depressions, edges of seasonal pools (PNHP), marshes, bogs, and beaver ponds (PNHP). Beaver activity can play a huge role in the survival of a population depending on whether or not the beaver dam was the start of a wet area or the dam was built while the wet area was already present.

The listing of this plant on the endangered species list is a result of many factors, many due to humans. While you have natural succession of plants and trees (PNHP), browsing by herbaceous animals, and wildlife bedding in wet areas, and runoff from hillsides (PNHP), humans are responsible for the destruction of habitat by dredging wet areas, construction of roads/buildings, agriculture, and walking/driving ATV’s through wetland areas (PNHP). All of these can cause a slight change in the water table (PNHP) or pollute the water in the area (Tur 2019).

As humans, we were not always careful about conservation, but many groups and organizations are working to restore and protect wetlands and other areas that support these wetland species.

In Pennsylvania, the occurrences of the bulrush populations in a “natural area” have protections, as well as the populations in state forest lands designated as “Public Plant Sanctuaries.” Many laws and rules have been put in place by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Pennsylvania falls in their jurisdiction.

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If you want to help the Northeastern Bulrush, there are ways you can help to prevent destruction that will lead to extinction. Donating to non-profits or organizations that work on preserving wetland areas and its biodiversity is an excellent way to contribute. Keeping yourself and any pets out of wet areas prevents any sensitive perennial plants from being walked on and trampled. And if you want to observe and admire this plant, refrain from removing it from the ground. Even though there are rules and laws to protect the Northeastern Bulrush, it truly is up to us prevent any further destruction of the plant and its habitats.


Copeyon, Carole K. “Northeastern Bulrush (Scirpus ancistrochaetus) Recovery Plan.” fws.gov. August 25, 1993. <http://www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/factsheets/15236.pdf&gt; Accessed October 21, 2020.

Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program (PNHP). “Northeastern Bulrush (Scirpus ancistrochaetus).” naturalhetitage.state.pa.us. <http://www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/factsheets/15236.pdf&gt; Accessed October 20, 2020.

Tur, Maria, David Simmons, and Mary Anne Furedi. “Species Status Assessment (SSA) Report for the Northeastern Bulrush (Scirpus ancistrochaetus).” ecos.fws.gov. August, 2019. <https://ecos.fws.gov/ServCat/DownloadFile/166510&gt; Accessed October 21, 2020.

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