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Cumbungi / Bulrush

BSA Plant Guide

Cumbungi / Bulrush (Typha orientalis)

Family: Typhaceae

Size: 1-4m

Description: Aquatic perennial rush with erect cane-like stems to 4m high and extensive rhizomes (underground stems).

Habitat: Found in freshwater lagoons, lakes, swamps, billabongs, dams, irrigation channels and drains, brackish wetland aggregate.

Foliage: Long bluish grey-green strap like leaves up to 3m x 1.5cm with triangular spongy cross section.

Flowers: Spikes: both male and female flower spikes are found on the same stem, the male flower spike at the top of the stem (20cm 1-2cm) produces yellow pollen (high in protein) from late December. The female flowers are found 3-5cm below the male spike and look like a velvety, chestnut brown sausage on a skewer (20-30cm x 2-2.5cm), bursting in summer to produce white fluffy seeds.

Roots/Rhizomes: Underground network of light brown rhizomes (1-2cm diameter) connecting to other plants forming a colony. Spongy, white, very fibrous core with very high starch content.

Distribution: Widespread across NSW and all other Australian states. Two native species in Australia, T. domengensis (common in the north) and the larger and broader T. orientalis (common in the south).

Uses: Edible rhizomes can be roasted on a fire for a few minutes until black and the starch sucked off the fibres, leftover fibres can be used for cordage – rhizomes and stalks can be dried and bashed to extract the nutritious starch/flour from the fibrous parts – young green flowering cobs can be eaten like sweet corn – new white/green shoots can be eaten raw – the yellow protein rich pollen from the male flower spike can be collected, mixed with flour or starch from the rhizomes to form cakes which can be baked in hot ashes – partially dead leaves can be used for thatching, string making and basket making – fluffy seeds from the brown female flower spike can be used as tinder or used as an absorbent dressing – gel like substance from between the leaf bases was used as a mild anaesthetic for tooth ache – stalks/stems can be used as light spears and for hand drills although difficult to use and brittle.

Bulrush (Typha orientalis)
Bulrush (Typha orientalis) spike
Pollen from male flower spike
Edible rhizomes
Edible rhizome