Cotton-grass flowers

Hare'-tail cotton-grass (Eriophorum vaginatum)

Hare's-tail cotton-grass flower

Cotton-grass is usually recognised by its fluffy, cotton-like, fruiting heads in late summer and autumn; at this time of year they are very different.  On Prestwick Carr today the flowering heads were just emerging from the dense tussocks of hair-like leaves.  The yellow anthers provided a little colour to the spiky cluster of flowers.  It’s wind-pollinated and despite the name it is actually a sedge rather than a grass.  March is quite early for flowering but the site centre is very sheltered, a little micro-climate of its own.  The flower stems will grow upwards and as the seeds set the more traditional looking bob of cotton will appear.

This is hare’s-tail cotton-grass (or bog-cotton), Eriophorum vaginatum, with its single flower per stem while the rarer common cotton-grass has a hanging cluster of flowers and prefers even wetter places.  Both species like bogs, places with waterlogged, peaty soils.

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The Hutts from Northumberland
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3 Responses to Cotton-grass flowers

  1. vivinfrance says:

    Has anyone ever tried spinning the cotton grass? Or is the staple too short?

  2. thecrankyhominid says:

    Cotton grass isn’t used for spinning as the fibres are too short. It is however good for stuffing pillows, quilts, homemade menstrual padding and so on. Also good for tinder and apparently a fodder crop for animals. Probably many other uses I’m not aware of but unfortunately not for spinning. I do wonder if it’s any good for making paper whether on it’s own or mixed with another good paper-making fiber. Definitely worth looking in to.

  3. thecrankyhominid says:

    Well I just found this and thought I’d add it for anyone interested:

    ‘The cottonlike fruiting heads can be used to stuff pillows, make paper and candlewicks, and start fires, according to Plants for a Future. The durable leaves, when dried, may be used to weave pliable mats. Attempts at using the flower heads as an actual cotton substitute have not been successful due to their fragility and inability to “twist” properly.’

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