The bur-reeds are a widespread and highly variable group of plants. For example, some taxonomists separate narrow leaf bur-reed (Sparganium angustifolium) into at least three additional, separate species (emersum, siaplex and multipedunculatum) while others consider all four a single species, angustifolium. Since I am certainly not an expert on bur-reeds, I will simply call this bur-reed growing on the shore of Bullseye Lake (Siskiyou County CA) S. angustifolium.
A native perennial, narrow leaf bur-reed inhabits shallow water in slow-moving streams, ponds and lakes throughout Canada, west of the Rockies and in some Eastern States around the Great Lakes and in New England.
Narrow-leaf bur-reed grows from fibrous roots and creeping rootstocks. The alternate, long, linear leaves with parallel veins float along the surface of the water, usually facing in the same direction. Narrow leaf bur-reed flowers are monoecious (pistils and stamens on separate flowers) and densely crowded into globe-like heads on the upper parts of the stem. The male, pollen producing flower heads are uppermost in the inflorescence and stalkless while the two to four seed producing female flower heads are below. One or two of the female flower heads are stalked and the others are stalkless. There are no petals or sepals visible on the flower heads (the sepals and petals are reduced to tiny scales), which resemble white to greenish spiny balls that brown as the flowers mature. The inflorescence emerges above the water. Narrow leaf bur-reed fruits are hard, dry achenes.
The bulbous stem bases and rhizome tubers of narrow leaf bur-reed are reported to be edible when cooked, yet I have never found stem bases or tubers large enough to even taste. Although I cannot find enough to eat on narrow leaf bur-reed plants, insects, waterfowl and other mammals do eat bur-reeds. These aquatic plants are a favorite food of muskrats and deer.
Sparganium, the genus name, derives from the Greek “sparganon” meaning “swaddling band” and refers to the long, narrow leaves found in this genus. The species name means “narrow leaf” in Latin.