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SPECIES:  Schoenoplectus americanus
A chairmaker's bulrush stand at Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, CA. Wikimedia Commons image by Gordon Leppig & Andrea J. Pickart -


SPECIES: Schoenoplectus americanus
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Uchytil, Ronald J. 1992. Schoenoplectus americanus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions: On 19 October 2018, the common name of this species was changed in FEIS from: Olney's three-square bulrush to: chairmaker's bulrush. Images were also added. ABBREVIATION: SCHAME SYNONYMS: Scirpus americanus Pers. [6,10,31] Scirpus olneyi A. Gray NRCS PLANT CODE: SCHAM6 COMMON NAMES: chairmaker's bulrush bayonet rush Olney's threesquare bulrush Olney's three-square Olney bulrush Olney's tule three-cornered grass three-cornered sedge three square sedge TAXONOMY: The scientific name of chairmaker's bulrush is Schoenoplectus americanus (Pers.) Volk (Cyperaceae) [34,35]. The taxonomy of chairmaker's bulrush is somewhat confusing because of misapplication of scientific names within the genus for many years [24]. LIFE FORM: Graminoid FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: No entry


SPECIES: Schoenoplectus americanus
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Chairmaker's bulrush is sporadically distributed from Nova Scotia to Washington state and south to South America. It grows primarily along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and in arid western states [28].
Distribution of chairmaker's bulrush in Canada and the United States. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC. [2018, October 19] [29].
   FRES29  Sagebrush
   FRES30  Desert shrub
   FRES38  Plains grasslands
   FRES41  Wet grasslands

     AL  AR  AZ  CA  CT  DE  FL  GA  ID  KS
     LA  MA  MD  MI  MS  NC  NH  NJ  NM  NV
     NY  OH  OK  OR  RI  SC  TX  UT  VA  WA

    3  Southern Pacific Border
    4  Sierra Mountains
    5  Columbia Plateau
    6  Upper Basin and Range
    7  Lower Basin and Range
    9  Middle Rocky Mountains
   14  Great Plains

   K033  Chaparral
   K040  Saltbush - greasewood
   K041  Creosotebush
   K042  Creosotebush - bursage
   K049  Tule marshes
   K055  Sagebrush steppe
   K073  Northern cordgrass prairie
   K078  Southern cordgrass prairie
   K098  Northern floodplain forest

   222  Black cottonwood - willow
   235  Cottonwood - willow

Chairmaker's bulrush forms nearly monodominant stands in some marshes.  
In coastal areas it is most abundant in brackish marshes and is commonly
associated with seashore saltgrass (Distichlis spicata var. spicata),
marshhay cordgrass (Spartina patens), big cordgrass (S. cynosuroides),
smooth cordgrass (S. alterniflora), and saltmarsh bulrush (Scirpus
robustus) [20,28].  In desert regions of the West, chairmaker's bulrush 
bulrush often dominates or codominates slightly to moderately saline marshes
bordering lakes or springs.  Codominants of western marshes include
creeping spikerush (Eleocharis palustris), Nebraska sedge (Carex
nebraskensis), inland saltgrass (Distichlis spicata var. stricta),
berula (Berula erecta), and marsh yellowcress (Rorippa islandica)

Chairmaker's bulrush dominated communities are described in the following

Aquatic and semiaquatic vegetation of Utah Lake and its bays [3]

Plant ecology of spring-fed salt marshes in western Utah [2]


SPECIES: Schoenoplectus americanus
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: Chairmaker's bulrush rhizomes are a preferred food of muskrat, and Canada and snow goose [15,20,28]. It is sometimes an important nutria food source. Chairmaker's bulrush stands serve as primary wintering grounds for the snow goose, where this plant makes up about 90 percent of the goose's diet. Where geese or muskrat populations are high, use by these animals can be so great that they cause "eat outs"; that is, they destroy large areas of chairmaker's bulrush vegetation by consuming all the rootstocks and rhizomes [28]. The seeds are eaten by wintering ducks in the South but generally make up only a small part of the diet [28]. Deer regularly feed on species of Scirpus. In terms of volume consumed, chairmaker's bulrush ranked second among 50 plant species fed to captive deer in Louisiana [28]. PALATABILITY: Chairmaker's bulrush rhizomes are highly palatable to the muskrat, nutria, Canada goose, and snow goose [28]. In the South, chairmaker's bulrush is moderately palatable to cattle. Tender, young shoots are most attractive [28]. Palatability was rated as follows in Utah: poor for sheep, horses, elk, mule deer, and pronghorn; fair for cattle, upland game birds, and small nongame birds; and good for waterfowl and small mammals [7]. NUTRITIONAL VALUE: NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE: Chairmaker's bulrush regularly provides good nesting habitat for many species of rails [28]. In Utah, cover value has been rated as fair for upland game birds and good for waterfowl, small nongame birds, and small mammals [7]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: Chairmaker's bulrush is used in saltmarsh revegetation programs. The best place to initiate new stands is probably in brackish areas where salinities range from 5 to 10 parts per thousand and water depths range from 0 to 4 inches (0-10 cm) [11]. Stands are best established by planting rootstocks 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) below the soil surface in winter at a spacing of about 6 by 6 feet (1.8 by 1.8 m). Water depths need to be maintained at 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm) above the soil surface for 3 to 4 weeks after planting but can fluctuate thereafter. Muskrat and nutria need to be controlled on planted areas because they can severely reduce planting stock. For a detailed discussion on site preparation and planting techniques see Sipple [28] and Ross and Chabreck [23]. OTHER USES AND VALUES: NO-ENTRY OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Management and maintenance of chairmaker's bulrush stands depends primarily on maintenance of water levels and secondarily on salinity levels. Maximum survival and growth in coastal areas occur where average minimum yearly water levels do not fall below 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm) above the soil surface [23]. Chairmaker's bulrush increases under light to moderate cattle grazing. Under heavy grazing, however, it is replaced by less palatable species such as seashore saltgrass, black rush (Juncus roemerianus), and seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum) [4,28].


SPECIES: Schoenoplectus americanus
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Chairmaker's bulrush is a coarse, rhizomatous, perennial sedge. It has erect, sharply triangular and deeply concave-sided culms growing up to 5 feet in height (1.5 m) [10,21]. It generally bears only a few short leaves up to about 4 inches long (10 cm) which arise from the lower part of the culm. The inflorescence consists of a cluster of 5 to 12 sessile, crowded spikelets [28]. Rhizomes are located within 6 inches (15 cm) of the soil surface [28]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM: Geophyte Helophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: Sexual reproduction: Chairmaker's bulrush seed production has been variously reported as very poor to heavy, with seed yields ranging from 0 to 24 pounds per acre (0-27 kg/ha) [28]. The seeds undergo a long period of afterripening, often requiring 18 months or more before germination can occur. The seeds remain dormant as long as they are submerged in water and thus become a component of the marsh seed bank. Germination and seedling establishment potentially occur on exposed mudflats following marsh drawdown, yet seedling establishment under these natural conditions appears to be rare [19]. Under laboratory conditions, maximum germination of only 25 percent was achieved in distilled water under fluctuating temperatures between 68 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (20-35 deg C) [20]. Germination decreased with increasing salinity with a 50 percent reduction at 4 parts per thousand (ppt) and no germination at above 13 ppt [20]. Vegetative regeneration: Chairmaker's bulrush perennates and spreads by rhizomes, which is primarily responsible for the maintenance and expansion of stands. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: In coastal regions, chairmaker's bulrush grows primarily on peat in brackish tidal marshes, where soil salinities range from 2 to 17 ppt, and water levels range from -2 to +4 inches (-5 to +10 cm) [11,18]. Inland, it primarily grows in marshes, wet meadows, and playas that are somewhat alkaline, but also grows in fresh water [6]. In an alkali meadow in Utah, chairmaker's bulrush dominated the area surrounding the water source (a spring), but became rarer farther away from the spring, and was replaced by inland saltgrass and creeping spikerush as water depth decreased and salinity increased [26]. At this Utah meadow, soils under chairmaker's bulrush stands had higher levels of organic matter and phosphorus than other marsh plant communities. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: The successional status of chairmaker's bulrush varies regionally. Along the Gulf coast, it is a seral species, and gives way to seashore saltgrass and marshhay cordgrass in the absence of periodic (every few years) burning or other disturbance. In Utah, chairmaker's bulrush is considered climax. Referring to chairmaker's bulrush stands at Fish Springs, Utah, Bolen [2] stated the "stands contain no other marsh species of comparable status and are considered to represent closed stands of vegetation. It is completely successful in its niche and competition from other communities and/or species was not observed." Along the East Coast, chairmaker's bulrush forms climax stands that are apparently maintained more by the slowly rising sea level than by fire [28]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: In Louisiana, chairmaker's bulrush begins spring growth in March when soil temperatures 4 inches (10 cm) below the soil surface reach 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 deg C) [11,19]. Culms grow at a uniform rate until August, but by October, nearly all the culms are dead. A small percentage of the culms remain green throughout the winter [19]. In Utah, spring growth began on March 27 in marshes near warm springs, and on April 14 in marshes far-removed from warm water [2]. Flowering and fruit production dates are as follows: Delaware - flowers from early June to September [28] New England - flowers from July 20 to August 8 [25] Louisiana - flowering begins in late March and is finished by late May. Seeds are ripe by the end of June. Seedfall begins in mid-July [19]. North and South Carolina - flowers from June to September [21] Utah - flowers in early May [2]


SPECIES: Schoenoplectus americanus
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Chairmaker's bulrush's rhizomes are sufficiently buried in soil, sometimes up to 6 inches (15 cm), and are thus well protected from the heat of fire. Additionally, the plants often grow in shallow water which further insulates the underground regenerative structures. Chairmaker's bulrush seedling establishment after fire has not been reported. However, field studies show that chairmaker's bulrush seeds stored in the soil are not injured by marsh fires. Palmisano [19] found that seeds subjected to marsh fires, whether placed on a moist, but unsaturated soil surface or buried 1 inch (2.5 cm) below the soil surface had slightly higher germination rates than seeds not subjected to fire. FIRE REGIMES: Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY: Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil


SPECIES: Schoenoplectus americanus
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: Only aboveground (or abovewater) plant parts of chairmaker's bulrush are removed by fire when water levels are aboveground or only slightly below the soil surface. Thus the plant survives most fires because perennating underground organs are not harmed. However, under severe drought conditions, fire can burn deep into peat layers and kill chairmaker's bulrush by charring or consuming the rhizomes . DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT: In comparison with marshhay cordgrass, chairmaker's bulrush's rhizomes are more deeply buried in the soil. If burned when marsh soils are dry, chairmaker's bulrush typically suffers much lower rates of mortality where these plants grow in mixed stands [12]. PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: Chairmaker's bulrush often sprouts within a week of burning [11,12]. In Louisiana, chairmaker's bulrush culm density reached or exceeded preburn density within 4 weeks of burning whether burned in October, December, or February [5]. Another study in Louisiana similarly found that burning during different seasons had no effect on chairmaker's bulrush culm density [11]. In this study, plants quickly sprouted whether burned in fall, winter, or spring as long as water levels were even with or slightly above the soil surface at the time of burning. However, maximum leaf growth occurred in March and April when soil temperatures rose above 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 C), no matter what time of year plants were burned. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE: The Research Project Summary Vegetative response to fire exclusion and prescribed fire rotation on 2 Maryland salt marshes provides information on prescribed fire and postfire response of plant community species, including chairmaker's bulrush, that was not available when this species review was written. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Marshhay cordgrass outcompetes and replaces chairmaker's bulrush in Gulf Coast brackish marshes that remain unburned for a few to several years. In a Louisiana brackish marsh, chairmaker's bulrush was "weeded out" by marshhay cordgrass after just 3 years of fire protection [28]. Prescribed burning every 2 or 3 years, however, maintains subclimax stands of chairmaker's bulrush [12]. For Louisiana coastal marshes, O'Neil [18] recommended burning chairmaker's bulrush stands anytime from October 10 to January 1 when water levels are between 0 and 2 inches (0-5 cm) above the soil surface.


SPECIES: Schoenoplectus americanus
REFERENCES: 1. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. [434] 2. Bolen, Eric G. 1964. Plant ecology of spring-fed salt marshes in western Utah. Ecological Monographs. 34(2): 143-166. [11214] 3. Brotherson, Jack D. 1981. Aquatic and semiaquatic vegetation of Utah Lake and its bays. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs. 5: 68-84. [11212] 4. Chabreck, Robert H. 1968. The relation of cattle and cattle grazing to marsh wildlife and plants in Louisiana. Proceedings, Annual Conference Southeastern Association of Game and Fish Commissioners. 22: 55-58. [14503] 5. Fernald, M. L. 1919. Lithological factors limiting the ranges of Pinus banksiana and Thuja occidentalis. Rhodora. 21: 41-67. [504] 6. Cronquist, Arthur; Holmgren, Arthur H.; Holmgren, Noel H.; [and others]. 1977. Intermountain flora: Vascular plants of the Intermountain West, U.S.A. Vol. 6. The Monocotyledons. New York: Columbia University Press. 584 p. [719] 7. Dittberner, Phillip L.; Olson, Michael R. 1983. The plant information network (PIN) data base: Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. FWS/OBS-83/86. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 786 p. [806] 8. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905] 9. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others]. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. [998] 10. Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. 1392 p. [1603] 11. Hess, Thomas Jerome, Jr. 1975. An evaluation of methods for managing stands of Scirpus olneyi. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University. 109 p. Thesis. [15924] 12. Hoffpauier, Clark M. 1968. Burning for coastal marsh management. In: Newsom, John D., ed. Proceedings of the marsh and estuary management symposium; 1967; Baton Rouge, LA. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University: 134-139. [15274] 13. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 77 p. [1384] 14. Lynch, John J. 1941. The place of burning in management of the Gulf Coast wildlife refuges. Journal of Wildlife Management. 5(4): 454-457. [14640] 15. Lynch, John J.; O'Neil, Ted; Lay, Daniel W. 1947. Management significance of damage by geese and muskrats to Gulf Coast marshes. Journal of Wildlife Management. 11(1): 50-76. [14559] 16. Lyon, L. Jack; Stickney, Peter F. 1976. 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[15303] 21. Radford, Albert E.; Ahles, Harry E.; Bell, C. Ritchie. 1968. Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. 1183 p. [7606] 22. Raunkiaer, C. 1934. The life forms of plants and statistical plant geography. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 632 p. [2843] 23. Ross, William M.; Chabreck, R. H. 1972. Factors affecting the growth and survival of natural and planted stands of Scirpus olneyi. Proceedings, Annual Conference of Southeastern Association of Game and Fish Commissioners. 26: 178-188. [18181] 24. Schuyler, Alfred E. 1974. Typification and application of the names Scirpus americanus Pers., S. olneyi Gray, and S. Pungens Vahl. Rhodora. 76: 51-52. [18180] 25. Seymour, Frank Conkling. 1982. The flora of New England. 2d ed. Phytologia Memoirs 5. Plainfield, NJ: Harold N. Moldenke and Alma L. Moldenke. 611 p. [7604] 26. Shupe, J. B.; Brotherson, J. D.; Rushforth, S. R. 1986. Patterns of vegetation surrounding springs in Goshen Bay, Utah County, Utah, U.S.A. Hydrobiologia. 139: 97-107. [17321] 27. Singleton, J. R. 1951. Production and utilization of waterfowl food plants on the east Texas Gulf Coast. Journal of Wildlife Management. 15(1): 46-56. [14536] 28. Sipple, William S. 1979. A review of the biology, ecology, and management of Scirpus olneyi. Vol. II: a synthesis of selected references. Wetland Publication No. 4. Annapolis, MD: Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Water Resources Administration, Wetlands Permit Division. 85 p. [20021] 29. U.S. Department of Agriculture, NRCS. 2018. PLANTS Database, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (Producer). Available: [34262] 30. Vogl, Richard J.; McHargue, Lawrence T. 1966. Vegetation of California fan palm oases on the San Andreas Fault. Ecology. 47(4): 532-540. [3044] 31. Welsh, Stanley L.; Atwood, N. Duane; Goodrich, Sherel; Higgins, Larry C., eds. 1987. A Utah flora. Great Basin Naturalist Memoir No. 9. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University. 894 p. [2944] 32. Williams, Jack E.; Kobetich, Gail C.; Benz, Carl T. 1984. Management aspects of relict populations inhabiting the Amargosa Canyon ecosystem. In: Warner, Richard E.; Hendrix, Kathleen M., eds. Proceedings, California riparian systems conference; 1981 September 17-19; Davis, California. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press: 706-715. [18979] 33. Stickney, Peter F. 1989. Seral origin of species originating in northern Rocky Mountain forests. Unpublished draft on file at: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT; RWU 4403 files. 7 p. [20090] 34. Kartesz, John T.; Meacham, Christopher A. 1999. Synthesis of the North American flora (Windows Version 1.0), [CD-ROM]. Available: North Carolina Botanical Garden. 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