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Cyperus leiocaulon Benth. 1878
pronounced: sy-PEE-russ lie-oh-CAW-lon
(Cyperaceae – the sedge family)
common name: Sedge
Cyperus is from the Greek κυπειρος (kypeiros), a sweet-smelling marsh plant; leiocaulon comes from λειος (leios), smooth, and καυλος (kaulos), the stalk of a plant. I think I have identified this plant correctly – it is certainly a Cyperus, but I am not 100% sure of the species, as the plant, when I photographed it near the top of the Hawkings Point track, was somewhat distressed, as was most of the flora at the end of the 2009 dry season.
Cyperus is a large genus of about 600 species of sedges, distributed throughout all continents in both tropical and temperate regions. They may be annual or perennial, are mostly aquatic and growing in still or slow-moving water up to 50 cm deep. Those that are not aquatic, such as our specimen, are known as ‘dry land sedges’. The stems of sedges are circular in cross-section in some, triangular in others, usually leafless for most of their length, with the slender grass-like leaves at the base of the plant, and in a whorl at the apex of the flowering stems. The flowers are greenish, and wind-pollinated, and are produced in clusters among the apical leaves. The seed is a small nutlet. Several Cyperus species are used as host plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera; both seeds and tubers are an important food source for many small birds and mammals. Some Cyperus species are used in folk medicine. Roots of Near East species were a component of kyphi, a medical incense of ancient Egypt. Purple Nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus) tubers are used in Kampo. An unspecified Cyperus was mentioned as an abortifacient in the 11th century poem De viribus herbarum†.
Cyperus microcristatus and Cyperus multifolius are possibly extinct: the former was found only once, in 1995, and the latter has not been seen in the last 200 years. The ‘true’ papyrus sedge of ancient Egypt, used for making paper, Cyperus papyrus ssp. hadidii, is also very rare today, due to the draining of its wetland habitat. It was feared to be extinct in the mid-20th century, but it has since been found at a few sites in the Wadi El Natrun region in Egypt, and also in northern Sudan. The name of that Egyptian valley refers to the presence of 8 lakes in the region that produce natron salt‡, mined here in ancient times for use in embalming mummies. It is believed that the Holy Family visited Wadi El Natron during their flight into Egypt. The Chufa Flatsedge (Cyperus esculentus) has edible tubers and is grown commercially for these: they are eaten as vegetables, made into sweets, or used to produce horchata in the Valencia region. The Australian Bush Onion (Cyperus bulbosus) is also eaten, to a smaller extent.
Cyperus leiocaulon is a tufted perennial, found in lightly forested areas. It has a very short thick rhizome. The culms are triangular in cross-section, smooth, swollen at the base, 20–40 cm high to 2 mm in diameter. The leaves are shorter than the culms, and 1.5–3 mm wide.
The inflorescences are simple, of 3–7 branches up to 10 cm long, or sometimes a single head-like spike; the spikes are broad-cylindrical to broad-hemispherical or ovoid. The nut is 3-angled, ellipsoid to obovoid, brown to blackish.
† Concerning the Value of Herbs
‡ the chemical symbol for sodium, Na, comes from the word natron
Photographs taken at Hawkings Point, 2009
Page last updated 11th November 2016