Heath rush

Juncus squarrosus

The heath rush is a tough, wiry, sward forming plant with a compact, slow-spreading rhizome. It has a distinctive appearance and shows little variation. It is found on acid soils throughout Britain but is common only in the north and west. It is confined to wet heaths and upland moors where it is sought out by grazing animals early in the season, so it is a useful plant rather than a weed. The leaves are tough and fibrous but are eaten by cattle, horses and sheep in winter and spring when other food is scarce. Sheep eat the developing inflorescences. Heath rush is favoured by grazing, without grazing, the grasses increase and suppress the less competitive rush. Heath rush can grow on a range of soils but cannot withstand competition from the fast growing species in base-rich habitats and is usually confined to acidic or peat soils. Heath rush is intolerant of shade both at the seedling stage and when mature. It can withstand water logging but not submergence. It is absent or stunted on dry soils. Plants may not flower until 5 years old. Flowering occurs in late June and July. The seed capsules contain around 50 seeds that ripen from August to October. Seed germination occurs in May and June but a bare area is needed for successful seedling establishment. In closed communities regeneration is mainly by rhizome growth. New shoots begin to grow in March and growth increases through April and May.

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