Common rush or soft rush (Juncus effusus) is a grass-like plant which resembles the foliage of chives with dark green cylindrical stems and a vase-shaped habit. Although its green stems appear stiff, they are soft to the touch. The plant grows from a clump at the base and each green stem grows up to pointy tapered tips. Because the plant has a strong dark green color and a vase-shaped upright habit, it is a nice thriller in a container garden or a sharp accent in a garden bed.Easy to Grow in Versatile Conditions
This plant is also very easy to grow, experiences little to no disease or insect problems, and is flexible with its soil conditions. It can take moist, wet, sometimes dry, and difficult areas. It won’t flop, bend, or topple over as it matures, even when it is sticking out of water or snow. It’s adaptable to many conditions, making it easily-useful in the garden or in a container garden.For years, I assumed Juncus effusus (common rush or soft rush) was an annual plant and used it commonly in container gardens or patio pots during the summer, but seeing it return in a garden bed one year, I later realized my error. As I searched for the plant’s origin and genus, it was interesting to see how it is described by different references on the web and in some gardening books, as follows:
- A clump forming wetland plant
- A slow-spreading, clump forming, grass-like perennial
- A plant loosely referred to as an ornamental grass
- A rush from the plant family Juncaceae
- A useful solution for wet-moist-sometimes-dry landscapes
- A species which is mostly perennial, rarely annual
- A warm-season grass
- A cosmopolitan rush species
- An annual, perennial herb, general from rhizomes
- A grass-like, rhizomatous perennial
- A perennial wetland plant
It is indeed a plant in the Juncaceous (rush) family, and it’s a monocotyledonous plant, which means it has a single cotyledon in the seed as in grasses. It looks more like a grass than an herbaceous ornamental perennial, but it is perennial for it returns every year. Although it can be described as a type of ornamental grass, it is technically not classified as such. My favorite description spotted on the web for this plant has to be # 8 listed above: A cosmopolitan (Watch out, Vogue). However, this term means its range extends across all of most of the world in appropriate habitats.
Stiff Stems are Soft to the Touch
The foliage on Juncus effusus (common rush, soft rush) is made up of individual leafless stems grouped together growing from a clumped base. Because the stems stand firmly together, the plant won’t flop over as it grows larger. Unlike typical ornamental grasses, it doesn’t tend to sway in the wind easily or become scraggly looking over time. Adjacent plants in a mixed garden bed or container garden won’t be buried by it either. Its spikey form is bold looking, tough, and vertical.
It has a Nice Effect in Containers and Garden Beds
From a designer’s point of view, this plant makes a nice effect in a composition of mixed plants because of its shape and habit, serving as a nice thriller in containers elevating an arrangement, or as a center focal point in gardens, especially when placed near a lighter green color or bolder leaf texture. Perhaps it can even be massed or grouped in landscapes to help with soil erosion or as an alternative to turf grass in select areas with the right exposure (sun is preferred).
And, as mentioned above, Juncus effusus (common rush, soft rush) prefers moist-sometimes dry landscapes. And this particular variety is a dark green color, which remains dark green during the season but eventually turns a muted brown in the fall and winter. It will remain standing during the winter months and the stems’ pointy tips will poke out of a snow covered area without bending or breaking, adding interest in the winter months.
Summer Flowering is More Interesting than ShowyIt flowers in summer (typically around June), but rather than shooting out flowers from the top, the flowers seem to extend from the sides of the stems opening up like a side curtain. Unlike the purple balls of chive’s flowers, this plant’s yellowish flowers are not super-attractive, but they still add character to the plant in summer. The flowers are clustered together in batches, and turn a bit brownish later in the season as they mature. They are the type of flowers which are more interesting to look at than showy or floral.
For Water Gardens and Low-Wetlands
Because of its flexible nature in regards to soil conditions, this is a great candidate for water gardens in decorative pots, or in low wet areas in your landscape. It is also a great choice for rain gardens which fill up with water during a rainfall, but then later dry out when there is no rain occurring. Another benefit to using it container gardens is this will control its potentially spreading roots (rhizomatous in nature), so it can be also used as a “troublemaker turned star” plant. However, although it can spread under ideal conditions in the landscape, mine has not caused any sneak appearances elsewhere as of yet. Besides an occasional watering with the hose in the summer, my plant has been growing well in dry-sometimes “wet” soil, a little opposite to description # 5 above.
Curly Cultivars with Twists and Turns
Not only is Juncus effusus (common or soft rush) a plant with formal looking, straight v-shaped look, there are also cultivars with more funky foliage traits, such as J. effusus ‘Frenzy’ (variegated corkscrew rush), J. effusus ‘Unicorn’ (giant spiral rush), and also J. effusus ‘Spiralis’ (corkscrew rush). Unlike their upright cousins, the foliage on these varieties bear stems with twists and turns, resembling untamed curls in otherwise straight hair or the spiral metal rod of a corkscrew. The curly varieties add a bit of whimsy to fun containers, such as head shaped pots. And are great for kids to enjoy because of the plants’ playfulness and irresistibility to touch.
Juncus effusus (common rush, soft rush) is a plant with many uses able to take varying conditions and is a long performer in the garden. These benefits make this candidate a low-maintenance and high versatile plant. Remember to take notice of it and consider its uses next time you are out shopping for plants, which hopefully will be in 30 days when spring arrives!
For more information, refer to these useful links:
USDA NRCS fact sheet
Juncus effusus ‘Unicorn’ (corkscrew, or giant spiral rush), Mobot.org Plant Finder
Juncus effusus ‘Frenzy’ (variegated corkscrew rush), Hofftmannursery.com
Juncus effusus f. spiralis (corkscrew rush), Mobot.org Plant Finder
4 feet tall with flower (June)
Low water spots (0-6 inches)
Planting Zones 4-10
Juncus in snow
by Cathy Testa
Cathy T’s Landscape Designs and Container Crazy Cathy T
Up the Garden Path photo by Simon Howden
Juncus in nursery square pots
Forest & Kim Starr [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Juncus by water
Christian Fischer [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Written by Cathy Testa
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