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Quick Look

Plants in the genus Juncus are known as rushes and reside in the Juncaceae family. Rushes favor the edges of ponds, bogs, and low, moist areas. They do well in boggy soils and are also reliable growers under fluctuating water conditions. Because they can ride out intermittent dry spells, they’re useful for rain gardens and bioretention, and other features where water conditions are variable.

Their understated vertical elegance gives the eye a rest when contrasted with ornamental grasses or flowering perennials. As an architectural element, they add style to modern landscapes and cutting-edge buildings. 

Cultivated varieties with twirling and curly stems invite creative designs both in the landscape and in decorative containers.

Digging Deeper

Rushes are characterized by their nude leaves, which can be thin, or more or less flattened, or round and containing spongy pith. They grow as tussocks or more isolated stalks, and bear inflorescences near the tip.

Juncus consists of approximately 225 species worldwide, some say as many as 400. They are found in moist, wet, infertile areas, especially in temperate climates. Approximately 120 species are native to North America according to the USDA Plants Profile. Others have been introduced, such as Juncus inflexus. Juncus provide habitat for wildlife and help keep our water clean. According to the USDA, the rhizomes of Common Rush (Juncus effusus) form a matrix for many beneficial bacteria, making this plant an excellent addition for wastewater treatment.

Juncus is the largest genus in the Juncaceae family, which contains approximately eight genera including Luzula, the woodrushes. The name Juncus comes from the Latin word for rush via the Latin jungere, which means to tie or to bind.

Some species reach a diminutive six inches; others grow to four feet. Rigid, smooth stems support inflorescences formed by many small flowers. Rushes are not always appreciated for these modest blooms; however, we love the texture they add to the landscape.

A Genus with a Past

Our human ancestors found countless uses for plants in Juncus. Historically, Native Americans used rushes for basket weaving, thatching, tying and binding, and in sacred ceremonies. Various populations worldwide made “rushlights” out of Juncus stems by stripping the stems and soaking them in oil or grease. Since the 17th Century or earlier, Juncus effusus has been used in Japan to make the outer covering of traditional Tatami mats.

In addition, ancient civilizations relied on some of the Juncus species to remedy ailments. A wide range of Native American tribes have eaten the sprouts, shoots, and seeds.

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