Eleocharis ovata (Ovate Spikerush)

Plant Info
Also known as: Ovoid Spike-sedge
Family:Cyperaceae (Sedge)
Life cycle:annual
Habitat:sun; wet sandy or peaty soil; ditches, swales, shores, wet meadows, floating mats, bogs
Fruiting season:July - October
Plant height:2 to 12 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: spike

[photo of spikes] A single spike at the top of the stem, egg-shaped to lance-oblong in outline, rounded to blunt at the tip, 5 to 13 mm (to ~½ inch) long, with 15 to 150 florets tightly packed and spirally arranged, each floret subtended by a single scale. Scales are 1.5 to 2.5 mm long, 1 to 1.5 mm wide, rounded at the tip, orange-brown to straw-colored with a green midrib that dries brown. Florets have a 2- or 3-parted style (often mixed in the same spike) and usually 3 stamens. The lowest scale in the spike is broader than the rest, surrounds about 2/3 of the stem, and lacks a flower.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of sheaths] The 2 leaves are bladeless and reduced to sheaths on the lower stem. The upper sheath is firm, concave on the back, the front pointed at the tip with a tooth at the apex that is up to .3 mm long.

[photo of reddish base] Sheath bases are green to straw-colored to brown to reddish. Stems are straight, ribbed, erect to ascending, usually of varying lengths, .2 to 2 mm diameter. Plants form dense clumps.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of spike, scales, and achenes] Each flower produces a single achene (seed), that drops off independently of the scale, the achene with a cap-like appendage (tubercle) at the tip that is clearly distinct from the rest of the achene. Achenes are .9 to 1.3 mm long, straw-colored to dark chestnut brown, smooth across the surface, shiny, lens-shaped in cross-section, urn-shaped in outline, rounded at the tip end and tapering at the base. Tubercles are greenish to brown, broadly triangular, at least 2/3 as wide as the achene and 1/3 to 2/3 as long as wide. There is no neck or constriction between the top of the achene and the base of the tubercle. Surrounding the achene are (usually) 6 or 7 barbed, brown bristles, slightly longer to much longer than the achene.


Eleocharis ovata is one of several clump-forming Spikerushes in Minnesota and can be difficult to distinguish from some of the others when achenes are absent. It is most similar to Eleocharis engelmannii and Eleocharis obtusa, and all three were at one time considered a single species and are still identified as such in some references. All three may be found in a variety of wet habitats, from road ditches to wet meadows to receding shores to seasonal pools in rock outcrops, though in Minnesota E. ovata is most often found on sandy or mucky shores and the peaty soils of floating mats and bogs. E. ovata is distinguished by the shiny and smooth lens-shaped achene, bristles usually longer than the achene, and tubercle that is less than 2/3 as wide as the achene and often as tall as wide. The spike is normally oval to lance-elliptic, blunt to rounded at the tip, with purple-brown scales.

E. obtusa and E. engelmannii usually have orange-brown scales and the tubercle is at least 2/3 as wide as the achene, and both tend to have stouter stems (to 2mm diameter) with less variability of stem lengths in a clump, though there is overlap. Also similar is Eleocharis intermedia, which has slender stems of widely varying lengths like E. ovata, but the achenes are nearly round to 3-sided in cross-section, have a more obviously pitted or textured surface and the tubercle is consistently longer than wide, so proportionately narrower and longer.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Aitkin, Becker and Ramsey counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Becker, Carlton and Itasca counties.


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