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Virginia Cottongrass, Tawny Cottongrass, Rusty Cotton Grass - Eriophorum virginicum


Family: Cyperaceae - Sedge family Genus Common Name: Cottongrass Native Status: NativeMonocot Perennial Graminoid
Eriophorum virginicum - Virginia Cottongrass, Tawny Cottongrass, Rusty Cotton Grass. Eriophorum is a fairly small genus in the Cyperaceae (Sedge) family with about 25 species worldwide, 11 of which are found in North America. They are mostly a northern plant, with most species being found in cool climates, even arctic regions. The species found in the United States are mostly in northern states, with a few extending their range in the Rocky Mountains signficantly southward. Eriophorum virginicum is one of the exceptions. In addition to northern states in the eastern half of the nation and in the Appalachian Mountains south to Tennessee and North Carolina, Tawny Cottongrass is also found in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain of NC and SC, as well as disjunctly in the Okefenokee Swamp.

As is the case with many members of the Sedge family (Cyperaceae), Eriophorum virginicum is a plant of bogs and moist meadows - another common name for the genus is Bog Cotton.

Found in:
CT, DC, DE, GA, IA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, VA, VT, WI, WV
Eriophorum virginicum

Distribution of Eriophorum virginicum in the United States and Canada:
USDA Plants Distribution Map temporarily unavailable.
Blue=Native; Grey=Introduced

Map from USDA Plants Database:
USDA, NRCS. 2017. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 22 Oct 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

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Site: Grayson Highlands State Park, Grayson County, VA Date: 2016-August-03Photographer: Gerald C. Williamson
Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 90MM f/2.8 AF Macro
The inflorescence of Eriophorum virginicum is a dense head of spikelets terminating the stem. The spikelets have white or orangeish-brown (tawny) hairs which elongate as the seeds mature.
Eriophorum virginicum

Site: Grayson Highlands State Park, Grayson County, VA Date: 2016-August-03Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
The cottony appearance of Eriophorum is due to the white, or in the case of Eriophorum virginicum frequently orange-brown, hairs developing as the fruits form.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Eriophorum virginicum

Site: Grayson Highlands State Park, Grayson County, VA Date: 2016-August-03Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
The hairs/bristles on the seeds of Eriophorum virginicum are frequently "tawny" - an orangeish-brown color - as shown here (after a rain.) Most members of Eriophorum do not sport this tawny coloring, being only white, which is why the genus is called "Cottongrass."
Click on the photo for a larger image
Eriophorum virginicum

Site: Grayson Highlands State Park, Grayson County, VA Date: 2016-August-03Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
The grass-like leaves of Tawny Cottongrass are up to about a foot long. The stem can be up to nearly 4 feet tall. Most sedges have triangular stems, that of Tawny Cottongrass is triangular near the top and round beneath that. Most grasses and rushes have round stems.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Eriophorum virginicum

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All content except USDA Plants Database map Copyright Gerald C. Williamson 2017
Photographs Copyright owned by the named photographer