Scirpus acutus


[too-lee; Sp. too-le]

The Tule (Schoenoplectus acutus, syn. Scirpus acutus, Schoenoplectus lacustris, Scirpus lacustris subsp. acutus), also known as the common tule, hardstem tule, tule rush, hardstem bulrush, or viscid bulrush, is a giant species of sedge in the plant family Cyperaceae, native to freshwater marshes all over North America. The word derives from the indigenous Mexican word tullin (Nahuatl=bulrush), and was first applied by the early settlers from New Spain who recognized the marsh plants in the Central Valley of California as similar to those in the marshes around Mexico City. It is pronounced "too-lee".

Tules once lined the shores of Tulare Lake, California, formerly the largest freshwater lake in the western United States, until drained by land speculators in the twentieth century. The expression "out in the tules" is still common, deriving from the dialect of old Californian families and means "beyond far away."

It has a thick, rounded green stem growing to 1-3 m tall, with long, grasslike leaves, and radially symmetrical, clustered pale brownish flowers. Tules at shorelines play an important ecological role, helping to buffer against wind and water forces, thereby allowing the establishment of other types of plants and reducing erosion. Tules are sometimes cleared from waterways using herbicides. When erosion occurs, tule rhizomes are replanted in strategic areas.

There are two varieties:

  • Schoenoplectus acutus var. acutus. Northern and eastern North America.
  • Schoenoplectus acutus var. occidentalis. Southwestern North America.

History and Culture

It is so common in wetlands in California that several places in the state were named for it, including Tulare (a tulare is a tule marsh). The tule fog in California is also named for it. Tule Lake was an infamous segregation camp for Japanese-Americans during WWII, imprisoning 18,700 people at its peak.

Dyed and woven, tules are used to make baskets, bowls, mats, hats, clothing, duck decoys, and even boats by Native American groups. At least two tribes, the Wanapum and the Pomo people, constructed tule houses as recently as the 1950s and still do for special occasions. Chumash Native Americans used the tule in the manufacture of canoes, useful to their culture, which was adept at exploiting marine resources.

See also

Line notes


  • Muntz, Philip A. A California Flora. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1973, copyright 1959
  • Muntz, Philip A. A California Flora: Supplement. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1976 (p. 183 Scirpus lacutris, validus, glaucus.)
  • C.Michael Hogan (2008) Morro Creek, published by Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham

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