Sunday, 29 June 2014

Flora Focus: Cotton Grass

Common cotton-grass isn't actually a grass, it's a sedge (a flowering plant which resembles grass or rush). It's unmistakable white fluffy heads fluttering in the wind look beautiful as you run across the moorland in the Peak District, or as shown above in Snowdonia, Wales.  The two photos below are of cotton grass seen in Switzerland last year:

The plant typically flowers from May to June and loves to grow in boggy, wet marsh or acidic peat land. The white fluffy heads are actually the seeds, so as they fall or are blow off the plant disperses it's seeds. During the First World War the white heads were used to dress wounds, and they have been known to be used in stuffing pillows and for making candle wicks. It is apparently too brittle to make actual cotton from it - something I learned while researching for this blog.

A similar species is the Hare's-tail cotton grass which grows in the form of tussocks with densely tufted stems. This type also loves the damp peat bog environment but can tolerate higher acidity and is found at higher altitudes than common cotton grass.

Cotton grass (both common and Hare’s-tail cotton-grass) is being planted by the Moors For Future and National Trust projects in the Bleaklow and Kinder areas as part of their blanket bog restoration programmes. 
"This plant has special attributes which stabilise the friable peat surface allowing other species including its cousin hares' tail cotton grass to colonise naturally. Each single plant introduced as a small "plug" sends out runners into the surrounding peat in the same way marram grass does in coastal sand dunes." (
Cotton grass seen on the southern edge of Kinder on my run round the Edale Skyline yesterday

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