Cyperus ustulatus


Cyperus: From the ancient Greek name for sedge, kypeiros
ustulatus: Burned or scorched

Common Name(s)

Coastal cutty grass, Giant umbrella sedge, cyperus

Current Conservation Status

2012 - Not Threatened

Conservation status of New Zealand indigenous vascular plants, 2012
The conservation status of all known New Zealand vascular plant taxa at the rank of species and below were reassessed in 2012 using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS). This report includes a statistical summary and brief notes on changes since 2009 and replaces all previous NZTCS lists for vascular plants. Authors: Peter J. de Lange, Jeremy R. Rolfe, Paul D. Champion, Shannel P. Courtney, Peter B. Heenan, John W. Barkla, Ewen K. Cameron, David A. Norton and Rodney A. Hitchmough. File size: 792KB

Previous Conservation Status

2009 - Not Threatened
2004 - Not Threatened


Cyperus ustulatus A.Rich.



Flora Category

Vascular - Native

Structural Class



Mariscus ustulatus (A.Rich.) C.B.Clarke, Cyperus ustulatus f. grandispiculosus Carse ex Kük.


Abundant in the North Island and northern South Island, west to Fiordland, and not threatened. Naturally uncommon at its eastern South Island limit, where it is known only from Tai Tapu, Motukarara, Banks Peninsula and the Rakaia River mouth. Also on the Chatham Islands, where it is not very common.


Coastal to lowland sites in open ground. Tolerant of a wide range of habitats and conditions but evidently preferring wetland margins, seepages, streamsides, lagoon and estuary margins.


Robust, 0.6–2.0 m tall, with leaves crowded at base of culms. Culms triquetrous, glabrous, striated. Leaves 0.6–1.2 m long, 8–15 mm wide, lamina coriaceous, strongly keeled, multitubular with numerous septa prominent on the abaxial side, margins and keel very sharply and minutely serrulate; sheath brown. Inflorescence a terminal umbel 40–140 mm long, of 6–12 unequal rays; rays usually unbranched, rarely with secondary branches at base; involucre of numerous leaf-like bracts very much > inflorescence Spikelets 8–13 mm long, numerous, dark brown or yellow-brown, crowded on each ray into a dense spike 35–70 mm. long. Glumes 5–20 in each spikelet, ovate-oblong, obtuse or mucronate, hard, smooth and shining, keeled, red-brown with white nerves, 2(-3) lowermost and 1–2 uppermost glumes smaller, empty, the remainder fertile. Stamens with persistent filaments. Nut 1.5–2 × c.0.5 mm., c.½ length of glume, linear-oblong, trigonous, brown.

Similar Taxa

Distinguished from C. insularis by its light green leaves (C. insularis has grey-green leaves and involucral bracts). It has a brown adaxial midrib whereas C. insularis is grey-green. Its leaf sheaths are brown to red-brown and are rigid and hard (whereas in C. insularis they are light pink to purple-pink and flexible and soft). The culm in C. ustulatus is green, distal 5-15 mm is always brown to red-brown and long persistent after flowering. The culm of C. insularis is green, rarely pale brown in distal part and is upright at flowering but weakens and collapses at seed fall after flowering. There are other floral characters which also distinguish these species, for these and other details see Heenan & de Lange (N.Z.J.Bot. 43: 351-359 (2005) - link provided below).


July - December


July - April

Propagation Technique

Easily grown from fresh seed, and often self sows in gardens. A quite attractive plant now prove popular in cultivation. However it should be planted with caution, the leaf, keel and culm margins are very sharp and can cause very deep cuts.


Not Threatened

Endemic Taxon


Endemic Genus


Endemic Family


Life Cycle and Dispersal

Nuts are dispersed by water, granivory and attachment (Thorsen et al., 2009).

Taxonomic note

In many populations seed is not formed due to the endemic smut fungus Bauerago (Ustilago) gardneri (Vankey) Vankey which infects the spikes. Infected spikes can be recognised by the abundance of pollen-like yellow powder—the fruiting bodies of the smut fungus—within the spikelets. Plants bearing this smut were formerly thought to be a genetic form and were named Cyperus ustulatus f. grandispiculosus Carse ex Kük.

Where To Buy

Over the last decade this species has become very popular and is now widely sold by most nurseries either as Cyperus ustulatus or Mariscus ustulatus.


Description adapted from Moore and Edgar (1970)

References and further reading

Heenan and de Lange (2005). N.Z.J.Bot. 43: 351-359: Cyperus insularis (Cyperaceae), a new species of sedge from northern New Zealand.

Moore, L.B.; Edgar, E. 1970: Flora of New Zealand. Vol. II. Government Printer, Wellington.

Thorsen, M. J.; Dickinson, K. J. M.; Seddon, P. J. 2009. Seed dispersal systems in the New Zealand flora. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 11: 285-309

This page last updated on 8 Jul 2014