Cotton grass

 
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Cotton grass

Eriophorum sp.

Everyone on Earth uses plants in their everyday life.  Plants are used to build the houses we live in and to make the clothes we wear.  They are used in the medicines we take and the foods that we eat.  Without plants, humans would not be able to survive.

Image: A Cotton grass plant

 
3D View: Cotton grass
 
 
A close up of Cotton grass.

Why this species is important

Cotton grass (known to scientists as Eriophorum sp.) can be found growing in damp meadows and often near the edges of ponds.  Its name comes from the white puffs of cotton found at the top of the plant’s stalk, 10 to 30 cm above the ground.

 

Seed dispersal

The seed heads of Cotton grass are covered in a fluffy mass of cotton which are carried on the wind to aid dispersal. In cold Arctic regions these masses of translucent fibres also serve as "down," increasing the temperature of the reproductive organs of the plants during the Arctic summer by trapping solar radiation.

See how the fluffy mass of cotton is impacted by high winds. When there is little or no wind, Cotton grass is not able to spread its seeds. However, when wind speed increases, the seeds from the plant disperse.

An image showing wind speed increasing and the seeds of the Cotton grass plant dispersing.
 
After wind
Before wind
 
 

A meaningful name

 

One Inuktitut name for Cotton grass is Puallunguat, meaning “imitation mittens”.

 

Cotton grass uses

 

Traditionally, the long Cotton grass seed bristles that make up the cotton are used to make wicks for lamps. The bristles are also used as insulation for clothing and bedding, and for starting fires.

 

Cotton grass characteristics

 

Some species have horizontal, underground stems where nutrients are stored from one growing season to the next.  Although it’s called Cotton grass, this plant is actually a sedge, which is in a different plant family altogether.

 

Video

 

Cotton grass blowing in the breeze

Watch Cotton grass blowing in the wind on the Arctic landscape.

 

Transcript: Cotton grass blowing in the breeze

Narrator:
A field of Cotton grass being gently swept by the wind.