Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge: Land of the Bulrush

Hello! In this post I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite field sites: Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge. Wertheim is the headquarters of U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s (USFS) Long Island Wildlife Refuge Complex. It’s a lovely place with beautiful nature trails, information about Long Island’s National Wildlife Refuges, a gift shop, and several realistic models of Long Island’s ecosystems (see pictures below).

A beach/dune model with Ammophila breviligulata (American beachgrass) and Lathyrus japonicus (beach pea).

A salt marsh at low tide with Spartina alterniflora (smooth cordgrass) and its symbiotic marsh mussels.

An old field model with Schizachyrium scoparium (little blustem), Opuntia humifusa (eastern prickly pear), and Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed susan).

My field partner, Emily, and I first scouted for naive plant species at Wertheim in August. We were looking for bulrushes – sedges in the genera Scirpus, Schoenoplectus, and Bolboschoenus – and we were starting to worry that there weren’t many collectible bulrush populations in Long Island. Luckily, Wertheim had every bulrush species we had hoped to find, and several other native plant species. We were ecstatic! At one point, we shouted “Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani!” in unison, like true botanical nerds.

Emily, a true botanical nerd, in her waders, prepared to brave the muds of Wertheim!

In total, we made fourteen collections at Wertheim, including five bulrush collections: Schoenoplectus americanus (chairmaker’s bulrush), Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (soft-stemmed bulrush), Schoenoplectus pungens (basket grass), Bolboschoenus robustus (sturdy bulrush), Scripus cyperinus (woolgrass), Hibiscus mosheutos (crimson-eyed rose mallow), Pluchea odorata (sweetscent), Symphyotrichum subulatum (eastern annual saltmarsh aster), Typha latifolia (broad-leaved cattail), Triadenum virginicum (Virginia marsh St. John’s wort), Panicum virgatum (switchgrass), Andropogon virginicus (broomsedge bluestem), Sorghastrum nutans (indian grass), and Pseodognaphalium obtusifoloium (rabbit tobacco).

Now, let me tell you about some of these awesome native plant species:

Bolboschoenus robustus (study bulrush):

Bulrushes are really cool. They look like big grasses, but they’re actually in the sedge family (Cyperaceae). You can tell most bulrushes apart from grasses and some other sedges by their triangular stems. Bolboschoenus robustus is a bold looking plant with its triangular stem and, as its epithet implies, robust seed heads.

Bolboschoenus robustus (sturdy bulrush) seed heads.

Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (soft-stemmed bulrush):

So in the last paragraph I said that most bulrushes have triangular stems – Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani is the exception to this rule (most botanical rules have exceptions, it’s actually pretty annoying). Schoenoplectus‘s round stem, as its common name suggests, has a soft pithy core and is easily snapped.

A field of Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani (soft-stemmed bulrush).

Pluchea odorata (sweetscent):

Pluchea a sweet little plant with pink flower heads and a wonderful smell. Pluchea is in the Asteraceae family – a huge, diverse family that includes many common flowers, including dandelions, sunflowers, and daisies to name a few. Many of the flowers in this family are wind-dispersed – they fluff up like dandelions and wait for the wind to blow their seeds away. Collecting wind dispersed Asteraceae can sometimes be challenging, but Pluchea’s fluffy seed holds on to the plant pretty well, and we were able to make a great collection.

Pluchea odorata. Picture found on cumauriceriver.org.

Typha latifolia (broad leaf cattail):

Typha latifolia is a common cattail that grows along pond edges. We found it at Wertheim growing around a large brackish (slightly salty) pond, along with Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani, Pluchea odorata, and Hibiscus moschetuos. Typha was one of the easiest collections we’ve ever made, because each head has TONS of seed.

A pond edge with Typha latifolia (broad-leaved cattail) and Hibiscus moschetuos (crimson-eyed rose mallow).

Thanks Wertheim!

Until next time,


We’ll miss you Wertheim!


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