Rushes are evergreen, with a texture similar to a grass. Ever heard the ditty “sedges have edges and rushes are round”? This is describing the round blades/stems of a rush, each pushing directly from the soil with no branching. The small flower/seed heads occur at the tips of the stems.
Given rushes’ tolerance of wet conditions and Portland’s awareness around sustainable stormwater management, perhaps the most sought after use for rushes in the landscape is in any of the many stormwater features such as bioswales, green streets, rain gardens, and stormwater planters bordering buildings. The main function of these features is to filter and disperse our rain events so that the water ending up in our surface waters and groundwaters is cleaner and less impactful with erosion.
Juncus does this well as a high water user and also, as a many stemmed plant, is adept at slowing water down and allowing sediment pollution to settle out. Juncus are by far the most used plant in the City of Portland’s green streets; however, they should by no means be only used as a monoculture. Juncus grow well with other wet-tolerant plants and look beautiful in mixed ecosystems. In larger municipal or industrial scale constructed wetlands (treating stormwater or wastewater), Juncus play an important phytoremediation role.
Juncus is often a mainstay for planting at pond edges, anywhere from wet wicking soil to a water depth of 6-8”. Planted in clumps and mixed with other native or ornamental pond edge plants, Juncus provides habitat for a variety of birds and frogs and other aquatic life.
Juncus are fairly forgiving of a range of soil and moisture conditions, and they have a clumping and spiky architecture that looks great in mixed planters. If you are designing your planter by the “thrillers, fillers, and spillers” mantra, Juncus can be used as either central thrillers (tall vertical elements planted near the center of the pot) or background fillers (medium height space fillers in a ring around the central thriller). See below for descriptions of some of the ornamental varieties commonly available.
Juncus stems are frequently used in modern basket weaving traditions around the world- making a variety of baskets, mats, cording, brushes/brooms, sieves, etc. The Latin root of Juncus means “to join, tie, or bind”, in reference to these uses. There are medicinal uses for Juncus species in Eastern systems of healing. And long ago in ancient Egypt, the stiffer Juncus stems were used as writing implements.
This species is one of the most common and hybridizes easily. Sometimes also known as ‘field rush’ and is often able to grow in wet meadows or even drier fields.
Juncus effuses ‘Goldstrike’ bears a distinctive gold stripe runs the full length of each stem, accenting the vertical energy. Approximately 18” tall.
This variety has tightly coiled/spiraled stems that may uncoil somewhat as they grow, and they tend to grow in all directions to 14-18” tall, looking like wild Medusa hair. This growth habit can look extremely interesting in containers but possibly ‘messier’ in the landscape. Deer resistant. Full sun.
One of the few species permitted in Portland public stormwater systems, perhaps because of its reliably clumping habit.
A variety with narrower and bluish colored stems, introduced by the California nursery San Marcos Growers. Tightly clumped and growing 18-24” tall. One of the rushes tolerant of dry and/or shady landscapes.
Another light green or gray blue colored variety. A wispier texture. Can be grown in the typical wet conditions but is also drought-tolerant once established.
Also called pale or giant rush. Strong, thick stems. Sometimes salt-tolerant.
A native wetland species with uncharacteristic flat blades/stems, making it look like a mini iris. Typically only 8-12” tall.
Grasses are a great choice to add structure, color and movement to the garden.
Work them into any garden style as focal points or accents and you'll be delighted with their graceful ease.