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Engelmann's Spike-rush (Eleocharis engelmannii)

Life history

Species overview

Engelmann's Spike-rush (Eleocharis engelmannii), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found on drying muddy flats on the margins of ponds and marshes, often in calcareous regions. Blooming occurs early June through late July; fruiting occurs late July through late August. The optimal identification period for this species is late July through late August.

Synonyms: Eleocharis engelmannii f. detonsa, E. engelmannii var. detonsa, E. engelmannii var. monticola, E. engelmannii var. robusta, E. monticola, E. monticola var. pallida, E. obtusa var. detonsa, E. obtusa var. engelmannii, E. ovata var. engelmannii


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Usually short bristles and flat tubercle distinguish this species.
  • Flower characteristics: Spikelets ovate to cylindric, 4 to 15 mm long and 2 to 4 mm wide; sepals and petals reduced to 6 to 7 brown bristles, or absent; styles 2 to 3 parted.
  • Fruit characteristics: Achenes lens-shaped, light to dark brown or olive, shiny; tubercle flattened-triangular.
  • Leaf characteristics: Stems slender, round in section, ribbed; sheaths green.


  • Blooming phenology: early June through late July
  • Fruiting phenology: late July through late August
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is late July through late August


  • Growth form: Graminoid
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Annual
  • Comments: Associated Species: Eleocharis acicularis, E. intermedia, Viola lanceolata, Fimbristylis autumnalis, Rotala ramosior, Agrostis gigantea, Juncus sp., Alisma plantago-aquatica.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Engelmann's Spike-rush (Eleocharis engelmannii). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Eleocharis engelmannii in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG4G5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found on drying muddy flats on the margins of ponds and marshes, often in calcareous regions.
  • Soils: Wet, often calcareous soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Engelmann's Spike-rush. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Natural communities score
Southern Sedge Meadow 2
Coastal Plain Marsh 2
Inland Beach 2

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Engelmann's Spike-rush. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Maintain and restore open habitat through selective clearing and brushing.
  • Minimize disturbance to hydrology, including soil disturbance from rutting.
  • Prescribed burns and/or brushing may be beneficial (dependent on local site conditions).
  • Survey for and control invasive plants prior to conducting timber operations, as these can be spread by vehicles and often respond vigorously to increased light; see forestry BMPs for invasive species.


Engelmann's Spike-rush Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Engelmann's Spike-rush Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Engelmann's Spike-rush Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Engelmann's Spike-rush Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition