11 January, 2010

Bulrush or Bullrush

We have been gardening for over 30 years, so I no longer remember if we once bought this. At the annual plant sale at Kirstenbosch? Or if it came as a bonus with another waterplant? Or if birds, or the wind gifted it to us? There was a clump of bulrushes in the patio pool at the first house. And that was one of the plants that travelled with us. Had to find a temporary home for the ‘pond’ while we were in a rented house, and the second house was built. Then of course it took a long time to make the pond since the Ungardener does the Ungardening himself, with some help for the really heavy labour. He didn’t actually DIG the pond himself.

We used 2 large baby baths April 2007

Typha capensis – also papkuil, matjiesriet or palmiet in Afrikaans, comes up frequently in the names of small towns or farms. My Oxford English Dictionary says ‘bull’ in the sense of coarse or large, think bullfrog or bullfinch. (We have the bullfrog, do we EVER have the BULLFROGS! But we don’t have bullfinches in South Africa). The dictionary also tells me that Moses in the bulrushes, was in fact papyrus, which makes more sense.

First planted in Ungardening Pond January 2008

July 2008

The bulrush is one of those plants everyone recognises and knows. No agonising about – I’ve lost the label, but I think it might be ….? A plant which invites the artist to capture it with the very simplest suggestion, a line drawing or a linocut. The clump of long leaves, gracefully arching over, as they get long enough (1.5 metres or more!)
It is a particularly beautiful plant, which I wouldn’t be without. But. We planted it in January 2008, and by July the nice new pond  was losing water at an alarming rate. We discovered that the bulrush is a rampant thug. Today, Ungardening Pond. Tomorrow, the world. It chewed thru the lining of the pond. We had to almost drain the pond. Repair the damage.

Tomorrow, the world August 2008

The bulrush was moved to Apple Creek. This is one of our rain gardening swales. A stormwater retention pond, not very deep, to hold back the downpour when the ‘flood gates’ are opened. So that we can keep ‘our rain’ to soak into the soil of our garden.

Moved to Apple Creek October 2008

And this is half the reason why we plant it. Gorgeous velvety brown seedheads in December and January. Comes the day when they decide, right. That’s it, we’re off! And the whole thing explodes into a feathery cloud of seeds. A pillow fight!

Bulrush December 2009

From the plantZafrica website. The flower spike has male flowers at the top, and female flowers at the bottom. Minute seeds, with hairs, are dispersed by the wind. This plant is found throughout the world. Anchored in the muddy bottom of marshes, streams or lakes. The name Typha is from the Greek, either marsh, or cat’s tail. And capensis means it is ours (Francis Drake declared this – The fairest Cape in the whole circumference of the earth.) This amphibious plant has both the strength and the anatomical structure to flourish in flood, and drought. It has little scuba tanks to keep the submerged bits going. As it grows denser, the Red bishops and Waxbills will be able to nest here. It already provides a place for frogs to start their little lives. Traditional medicine has many uses for the bulrush. All parts of the plant can be used as a subsistence crop. Ideal as a reed bed for water purification, then providing green manure after it has cleared the contaminated water. Must have wet feet, and needs to be kept where you want it!


  1. Hello Diana,

    I remember seeing bull rushes as a child. Your pond is beautiful. I hope the bull rushes are happy in their new location.

  2. Hi Diana, I voted! I love the rush story, but was aghast at the pond damage. Arghhh! We have cattails here, a native wetlands plant, protected actually. Yours seem somewhat larger. They are great for basket weaving. :-)

  3. Well, I'd be shy to invite such a bully into my garden! Water plants seem to have those invasive tendencies. But this one sure is a beauty!

  4. we have bulrushes growing in our Lade. During the wintertime they disappear completely but in the late summer they have those magnificent flowers just like the ones in your photos. Our bulrushes stand about 6 ft tall out of the water.


Photographs and Copyright

Photographs are from Diana Studer or Jurg Studer.
My Canon PowerShot A490

If I use your images or information, it will be clearly acknowledged with either a link to the website, or details of the book. If you use my images or words, I expect you to acknowledge them in turn.

Midnight in Darkest Africa

Midnight in Darkest Africa
For real time, click on the map.