CPC Plant Profile: Long's Bulrush
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Plant Profile

Long's Bulrush (Scirpus longii)

This robust perennial sedge forms dense, leafy tussocks, with stems that grow up to 1.5 m tall. Photo Credit: Dorothy Long
Description
  • Global Rank: N/A
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Cyperaceae
  • State: CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NS, NY, RI
  • Nature Serve ID: 142877
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 02/10/1987

This bulrush is found only in the eastern United States, mainly along the coastal plain, from Nova Scotia to southern New Jersey. A wetland plant, it inhabits open, peaty swales, river meadows, abandoned cranberry bogs, and other areas with fluctuating water levels. The species is notable for its stout rhizome, and its tendency to form distinctive, circular clones. Periodic fires appear to benefit the plant by stimulating flowering and enhancing seedling establishment. Although the species has been declining due to habitat conversion, competition with invasive species, and an absence of fire (and is now considered extinct in Connecticut and New York), the good news is that botanists have recently discovered several healthy populations. Research and Management Summary: A handful of individuals and institutions are studying the ecology of this species, and conservation planning is underway for this species throughout its range. Plant Description: Scirpus longii is a robust, perennial sedge that forms dense, leafy tussocks, with stems growing up to 1.5 m tall. The plants rarely flower, but colonize sites vegetatively and form circular clones by means of thick rhizomes. The species is also distinguished by its reddish-brown achenes (fruits), long bristles that exceed the scales, and its "woolly" inflorescences borne on relatively long pedicels that appear earlier in the year (June) than other bulrushes.

Participating Institutions
Updates
  • 09/28/2020
  • Demographic Research

Tom Rawinski (Massachusetts Audubon Society (Lincoln, Massachusetts) has drafted a Conservation and Research Plan for the New England Wild Flower Society (NEWFS) addressing Scirpus longii populations in New England. He has also undertaken extensive surveys for the taxon in Massachusetts.

  • 09/28/2020
  • Seed Collection

The New England Wild Flower Society has successfully germinated Scirpus longii from seed. Germination is good when seeds are sown soon after collection (Brumback 1989).

  • 09/28/2020
  • Living Collection

Plants have been potted well from field-collected cuttings, and potted plants have sometimes flowered. Scirpus longii now grows in the permanent collection at Garden in the Woods.

  • 09/28/2020
  • Propagation Research

The New England Wild Flower Society has successfully germinated Scirpus longii from seed. Germination is good when seeds are sown soon after collection (Brumback 1989). More recent studies at NEWFS indicate that seeds can germinate after a cold, moist treatment as well (W. E. Brumback, NEWFS, personal communication).

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Scirpus longii is a regional endemic of the northeast Atlantic Coastal Plain with between 50 and 55 extant element occurrences. Determining numbers of plants is difficult in this clonal, rhizomatous species, but with ""tens of thousands"" of ramets each in New Jersey and Massachusetts (abundant over 105 acres at one site in MA), greater than 10,000 ramets in Nova Scotia (including sites where the species is dominant over 37 and 12 acres), and with two dense stands of from 5-10 acres in size in Maine and a dense stand of 7 acres in size in Rhode Island, we estimated that there are at least 100,000 ramets globally. The species has been extirpated from New York and probably also from Connecticut, where its 1 documented historical site may have been destroyed by industrial development. The species is apparently in decline in the southern portion of its range (NJ, NY, CT) and is stable (with our knowledge of its abundance greatly expanding) in the northern portion of its range (MA, ME, and NS).

The extant populations are widely scattered from Nova Scotia to southern New Jersey. Given our present state of knowledge, the species has its greatest abundance in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, in eastern Massachusetts, and in Nova Scotia. The species is declining in New Jersey, primarily as a result of degrading and destruction of its wetland habitat. Although two New England occurrences are known to have been extirpated, and two more no longer support S. longii for unknown reasons, 25 extant, newly-discovered occurrences have been documented since 1987. In Massachusetts alone, targeted searches since 1997 have documented eleven previously unknown occurrences. Network botanists in Massachusetts and Nova Scotia agree that suitable, unsearched appropriate habitat still exists in their jurisdictions and anticipate that additional new occurrences will be discovered. The ability of S. longii to persist for extended periods in a vegetative state has probably contributed to the species being overlooked.

Scirpus longii apparently requires periodic fires or other disturbances, such as flooding or herbivory, to stimulate significant sexual reproduction. The species is therefore vulnerable to extirpation through the loss of open habitat by woody succession where the natural fire regime has been altered or suppressed. However, over half (approximately 31) of the occurrences are currently on protected lands, and so controlled fire managment may be possible at many sites. Unintentional fires are also known to occur at some New England sites.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

As articulated by NatureServe (2001) and Rawinski (2001), threats include: Conversion of habitat for development, with accompanying changes in hydrology and water quality of wetlands (due to ditching, impoundments, and diversions) where Scirpus longi

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Scirpus longii is known from 9 stations in Nova Scotia (Hill 1994); 10 populations in Maine (Rawinski 2001); 1 site in New Hampshire (Sperduto and McCarthy 1993); 13+ sites in Massachusetts (one said to contain the world's largest population at several thousand stems [Rawinski 2001]); and 30+ sites in New Jersey (NatureServe 2001). The majority of populations are small, with only a few dozen culms. It is likely that the global population numbers on the order of 10,000+ stems.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Curtis Boehlen (Bates College Department of Biology, Lewiston, Maine) is studying the ecology of Scirpus longii along the Saco River in Maine. Nicholas M. Hill, Mount St. Vincent University Department of Biology (Halifax, Nova Scotia) has performed extensive research on Scirpus longii in Canada. The Committee on Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has conducted ongoing research on the Atlantic coastal plain flora of Canada.

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Tom Rawinski (Massachusetts Audubon Society (Lincoln, Massachusetts) has drafted a Conservation and Research Plan for the New England Wild Flower Society (NEWFS) addressing Scirpus longii populations in New England. He has also undertaken extensive surveys for the taxon in Massachusetts. Volunteer task forces of the New England Plant Conservation Program (NEWFS, Framingham, Massachusetts) regularly monitor populations of Scirpus longii in New England. The New England Wild Flower Society has successfully germinated Scirpus longii from seed. Germination is good when seeds are sown soon after collection (Brumback 1989). More recent studies at NEWFS indicate that seeds can germinate after a cold, moist treatment as well (W. E. Brumback, NEWFS, personal communication). Plants have been potted well from field-collected cuttings, and potted plants have sometimes flowered. Scirpus longii now grows in the permanent collection at Garden in the Woods. Intensive land protection efforts are underway in Maine (The Nature Conservancy), Nova Scotia (COSEWIC 2000), and Massachusetts (Rawinski 2001).

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Needed research and management activities include: Controlled, experimental studies of the effects of fire on recovery of Scirpus longii Quantitative studies of the impacts of invasive species on Scirpus longii Studies of the correlation of Scirpus longii occurrences with particular nutrient levels and other aspects of soil and water chemistry Experimental research to determine ecological factors that trigger flowering Studies to determine whether the species generates a seed bank in the wild

Elizabeth J. Farnsworth
  • 01/01/2010

Studies of long-term seed storage techniques are needed.

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Photos
Nomenclature
Taxon Scirpus longii
Authority Fern.
Family Cyperaceae
CPC Number 3880
ITIS 40264
USDA SCLO
Common Names Long's bulrush
Associated Scientific Names Scirpus longii
Distribution Scirpus longii is found from southwestern Nova Scotia to the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. The species occurs in: southwestern Maine (Maine Department of Conservation 1999); Rochester, New Ham
State Rank
State State Rank
Connecticut SH
Massachusetts S2
Maine S2
New Hampshire S1
New Jersey S2
Nova Scotia S3
New York SX
Rhode Island S1
Habitat

Scirpus longii is an Atlantic Coastal Plain species occurring generally within 100 km of the seashore in wet meadows, grassy swales, sedge meadows, northern New England acidic fens, swamps and limnogenous fens, riverwash fens/marshes, and fresh water marshes, cranberry bogs, excavations, power line rights-of-way, and other disturbed areas (Rawinski 1990, Hill and Johansson 1992, Lortie 1996, Rawinski 2001, NatureServe 2001). The species is most commonly observed in sandy, shallow-water habitats with fluctuating water tables; soils may be saturated seasonally and undergo periodic drying. These habitats may show moderate peat development, with variable amounts of Sphagnum moss present (Schuyler and Stasz 1985). Other plant species commonly found with Scirpus longii include: Aster nemoralis, Calamagrostis canadensis, Carex walteriana (Carex striata var. brevior), Carex bullata, Carex lasiocarpa, Carex livida, Carex stricta, Chamaedaphne calyculata, Cladium mariscoides, Eriophorum virginicum, Eupatorium album, Eupatorium resinosum, Gentiana autumnalis, Iris versicolor, Juncus canadensis, Lacnanthes tinctoria, Lophiola septentrionalis, Lysimachia terrestris, Muhlenbergia torreyana, Pognia ophioglossoides, Rhynchospora knieskernii, Rhynchospora pallida, Rosa nitida, Salix petiolaris, Spartina pectinata, Spiraea tomentosa, Utricularia intermedia, Vaccinium macrocarpon, and Woodwardia virginica (Schuyler and Stasz 1985, NatureServe 2001, Rawinski 2001).

Ecological Relationships

Scirpus longii is a clone-forming, perennial sedge, with a uniquely thick rhizome that likely serves as a storage organ as well as for perennation. Clones of regularly-spaced, dense culms often take the shape of circles as new runners spread out laterally from a core that gradually dies back (Hill and Johansson 1992). This dead core seems to remain relatively free of vegetation, especially seedlings of shrubs that can shade out the bulrush; mechanisms for this exclusion are unknown (Hill and Johansson 1992). The plant flowers only sporadically in the wild, and disturbance to the stem (in the form of fire, herbivory by muskrats and cattle, ice-scouring, or transplanting) appears to stimulate flowering (Schuyler and Stasz 1985, Hill and Johannson 1992, Rawinski 2001). Wind is the most likely agent of pollination for Scirpus longii, as for most members of the Cyperaceae. Seeds may be dispersed by wind or water (Rawinski 2001). Seed viability is high, and many seeds germinate without a period of dormancy, sometimes producing a second generation within a single growing season (Schuyler and Stasz 1985, Brumback 1989). Schuyler (1963) observed that hybridization between Scirpus longii and Scirpus cyperinus can occur, but the two species are likely to be reproductively isolated due to differing flowering times, and morphological intermediates between the two have not been observed in the wild (Rawinski 2001). Fire and periodic flooding may also assist the plant by suppressing the growth of less tolerant plant competitors. A common invasive species, Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), however, has been cited as a threat to Scirpus longii where the two co-occur (Thompson et al. 1987, Malecki et al. 1993).

Pollinators
Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID

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