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Cottongrass (Common)

Eriophorum angustifolium

Cottongrass (Common) is the county flower of Manchester. Its white plumes are a familiar sight in wet hollows on the moors above the city. They are an emblem both of their boggy habitat and of the wide open spaces.

How to spot it

Cottongrass (Common) has a fluffy, cotton-like flower and seed heads which give this distinctive plant its name. Cottongrass is a member of the sedge family and so not technically a grass at all. It thrives in the harshest of environments where it can take advantage of the lack of competition. After fertilisation in early summer, the small, unremarkable green and brown flowers develop distinctive white seed-heads that resemble tufts of cotton. Combined with its ecological suitability to bogs, these characteristics give rise to the plant’s alternative name, Bog Cotton.

Where to spot it

It is common in bogs throughout the UK and Ireland. Cottongrass (Common) likes open, wet, peaty ground and so is likely to indicate areas best avoided when out for a walk.

Things you might not know

  • The fluffy white fronds of Cottongrass were once used as a feather substitute in pillow stuffing in Suffolk and Sussex. Experiments have been done to see if a usable thread can be derived from the seed-plumes. However, the fibres are too short and brittle.
  • It has been used in the production of candle wicks and paper in Germany. In Scotland, Cottongrass was used to dress wounds during First World War.
  • Cottongrass seeds and stems are edible and are used in traditional Native American cuisine by Alaska natives, Inupiat people and Inuit. The roots and leaves are also edible and, owing to their astringent properties, are used by the Yupik peoples for medicinal purposes. Through a process of infusion, decoction and poultice they are used to treat aliments of the gastrointestinal tract and in the Old World for the treatment of diarrhoea.

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