Sparganium glomeratum (Clustered Bur-reed)

Plant Info
Also known as: Northern Bur-reed
Family:Typhaceae (Cat-tail)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; cool, shallow water; marsh and swamp edges, floating mats, fens, wet depressions, wet ditches, wet meadows, ponds
Bloom season:July - August
Plant height:1 to 2 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: round

[photo of flower clusters] Round flower heads in a spike-like arrangement at the top of the stem, with separate male and female flower heads on the same plant (monoecious); lateral flowering branches are absent. At the tip of the stem are 1 or 2 stalkless male flower heads, often tightly crowded, each covered in dozens of petal-less flowers with yellow-tipped white stamens. Male flower heads turn brown, wither and drop off after pollen release, the naked part of the stem usually persisting for a time but eventually also withering away.

[photo of supra-auxillary female head] Two to 6 female flower heads sit below the males, are somewhat larger than the males, and are single in the axils of leaf-like bracts, the upper head(s) typically stalkless, the lowest head(s) usually stalked with the stalk at least partially fused to the stem so the head looks attached to the stem above the axil (known as supra-auxillary). Individual flowers have a single style at the tip of a green ovary and are surrounded by scale-like tepals (petals with similar sepals).

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves and cross-section] Leaves are alternate and basal, mostly erect to ascending, linear, to 20 inches long, to about 1/3 inch (3 to 8 mm) wide, hairless, toothless, flat on the upper surface, weakly keeled on the back and triangular in cross section at least towards the base. Stems are erect, green and smooth. Flowering stems rise above the surface of the water and are much surpassed by the leaves.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed with plume

[photo of developing fruit] Female flower heads form densely packed seed heads that expand up to about ¾ inch (to 20 mm) diameter, the plump, spiky head maturing from light green to greenish-brown.

[photo of maturing fruit] Mature fruit is shiny, the body elliptic to somewhat fiddle-shaped, 3 to 6 mm (to ¼ inch) long, tapering to a stalk-like base (stipe), the tip tapering to a straight beak 1.3 to 2 mm long, much shorter than the body.


Clustered Bur-reed is considered a circumboreal species, native to parts of northern Asia, Europe and North America, its range only known to dip into the US in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In Minnesota, it was designated an Endangered species in 1984, downgraded to Special Concern in 1996 and de-listed in 2013 after biological surveys determined it was not as rare as previously thought and its typical habitat(s) not especially threatened. It is currently Threatened in Wisconsin. Habitats in herbarium records are often described as “moats” within floating mats, fens, and other wetlands. Most of the images here were taken in a wet ditch along a gravel road cut through a mixed conifer-hardwood swamp.

Of the Sparganium species with erect leaves, S. glomeratum is distinguished by the lack of lateral flowering branches, at least some supra-auxillary female heads, only 1 or 2 staminate heads, and mature fruit that is shiny and has a straight beak less than 2 mm long, distinctly shorter than the body. S. glomeratum resembles a small S. emersum, which also has supra-auxillary female heads, but typically has 3 or more staminate heads, sometimes has a lateral flowering branch, and beaks on the fruit are about as long as the body.

Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓

Map of native plant resources in the upper midwest

  • Minnesota Native Landscapes - Your Ecological Problem Solvers
  • Spangle Creek Labs - Native orchids, lab propagated
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land
  • Landscape Alternatives
  • ReWild Native Gardens

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Carlton County. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Itasca County. Photos by Gary Walton taken in Carlton County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.