Plant Guide > Grasses > Black Grass

Black Grass

Black GrassJuncus Gerardi

Black-grass (Juncus Gerardi), easily recognized by its characteristic dark-green colour, blooms in midsummer and is common along the Atlantic coast and by tidal waters of rivers from Canada to Florida.

The plant is grass-like, and with dark leaves and blackish flowers covers large areas on the salt marshes, where it is often associated with Foxgrass (Spartina Patens).

The slender wiry stems of Black-grass rise from creeping rootstocks and are usually from one to two feet in height; the perianth divisions are rounded and are shorter than the dark seed-capsule.

This rush is the most highly valued of the common species, as it yields a large part of the salt hay that is taken each year from our coastwise marshes.

Other rushes will occasionally be found by the student and may be distinguished by the general manner of growth, the form of the small divisions of the perianth, and the relative length of these divisions in comparison with the length of the seed-capsules.

The gathering of rushes was an important task when the floors of English dwelling houses were covered with these plants of the marsh, and the sovereign could require, as did William the Conqueror of his subjects upon Aylesbury land, that the people furnish "straw for his bedchamber, and in summer straw rushes."

To this floor-covering Erasmus ascribed pestilences, since the lowest layer of rushes was often left unchanged for years.

In the days of "Merrie England" such rush-strewn floors were an evidence of barbarism to the courts of southern Europe, where a Frenchman of the eighteenth century reported to Henry III of France that there were but three remarkable things to be seen in England, of which one was the custom of the people to "strew all their best rooms with hay."

We also read that in olden days the pathways of processions were made green with scattered rushes, and that in Shakespeare's time the stage was strewn with these plants. Rush-lights of bygone days were prepared from the pith of certain plants of this genus. The round stems were gathered in late summer and were placed in water for a short time. The pith was then carefully taken from the stems, and after being left out in the dew for several nights was dried, and dipped in scalding fat.