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Few-flowered Spike-rush (Eleocharis quinqueflora)

Life history

Species overview

Few-flowered Spike-rush (Eleocharis quinqueflora), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found on cold coniferous poor fen mats, but also in a variety of moist meadows in calcareous areas. Blooming occurs late June through late July; fruiting occurs early July through late September. The optimal identification period for this species is early July through late September.

Synonyms: Eleocharis bernardina, E. pauciflora, E. pauciflora var. bernardina, E. pauciflora var. fernaldii, E. pauciflora var. suksdorfiana, E. quinqueflora ssp. Fernaldii, E. quinqueflora ssp. suksdorfiana, E. quinqueflora var. suksdorfiana


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Superficially resembels the common E. acicularis, but with shorter stems (1 to 4 dm vs. greater than 4 dm) and fewer than 10 flowers per spikelet.
  • Flower characteristics: Spikelets 3 to 8 x 1.5 to 4 mm; 3 to 10 floral scales per spikelet; 3 to 6 perianth bristles often unequal, rudimentary to equaling tubercle, stout to slender, spinules dense to apparently absent.
  • Fruit characteristics: Achenes stramineous to medium brown or gray-brown, equilaterally trigonous to compressed-trigonous, rarely some biconvex, obpyriform, beak variable; tubercles rarely absent.
  • Leaf characteristics: Distal leaf sheaths stramineous to brown or reddish proximally, green to stramineous or brown distally, mebranous to papery, apex often reddish, subtuncate to acute.


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


  • Growth form: Graminoid
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous stoloniferous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Larix laricina, Triglochin palustre, Carex lasiocarpa, C. buxbaumii, Rhynchospora fusca, Thuja occidentalis.

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 Few-flowered Spike-rush (Eleocharis quinqueflora). 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 quinqueflora in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS2
Global RankG5
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 cold coniferous poor fen mats, but also in a variety of moist meadows in calcareous areas.
  • Soils:

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Few-flowered 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).

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Few-flowered 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 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.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.

Management guidance

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

  • Minimize disturbance to hydrology, including soil disturbance from rutting.
  • This species is likely sensitive to water quality. Following BMPs around streams and buffering associated drainages will reduce eutrophication and prevent water quality degradation.
  • Avoid rapid and dramatic reductions in canopy cover or basal area in wet areas to reduce risk of swamping.
  • 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.
  • Avoid disturbance to shorelines and the forest-beach interface.


Few-flowered Spike-rush Photo.

Photo © Emmet Judziewicz.

Few-flowered Spike-rush Photo.

Photo © Emmet Judziewicz.

Few-flowered Spike-rush Photo.

Photo by Kevin Doyle, Wisconsin DNR.

Few-flowered Spike-rush Photo.

Photo by Kevin Doyle, 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