Also known by its scientific name Cyperus rotundus or one of its many aliases, nut grass, sedge grass, watergrass, coco-grass, and Java grass, nutsedge is a common weed native to Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Continue reading to learn more about nutsedge’s history, origins, pros and cons, and what makes it a weed!
History of Nutsedge
Like many common weeds and grasses that are still pervasive today, Nutsedge has been around forever.
There is archeological evidence of Cyperus rotundus in dental records dating back to 6700 BC!
Additionally, documentation of Cyperus rotundus being used as medicine and perfume can be found in texts from ancient Greek physicians like Pliny, the Elder.
Clearly, this weed isn’t all bad news. So what makes it such a pesky weed, and why are people so desperate to get rid of it?
Why Nutsedge Is Considered a Weed
What makes a plant a weed is a broad characteristic that applies widely. A weed is just a plant growing where it is not supposed to or is not wanted.
That doesn’t mean the plant is inherently bad – far from it! But it does mean that nutsedge is often found where it wasn’t planted.
Nutsedge is a perennial, meaning it thrives all year round for many years. Known as the “world’s worst weed,” it negatively impacts over 50 crops in over 90 countries.
Most herbicides and weed killers can kill the plant’s leaves but ultimately have no impact on its root system.
How To Identify Nutsedge
Though it looks like grass and has many grass-like nicknames, nutsedge is a member of the sedge family. And despite the name, nutsedge also has nothing to do with nuts.
The plant can grow up to 55 inches tall with spiky-looking clusters of flowers and is bright, vibrant green in color with reddish-brown tubers.
There are two main varieties of nutsedge: yellow and purple, named for the flower color.
The triangular shape is one way to identify and tell this weed apart from common grasses. The leaves grow in groups of three from the base of the plant and have a rib that runs down the middle.
Potential Nutsedge Issues
Nutsedge is not poisonous, thorned, or toxic to humans, making it seem harmless. But it sure can cause plenty of damage.
First and foremost, this weed is a tough competitor! It does a great job of hoarding ground nutrients and resources, thus draining the surrounding plants of what they need to survive.
This is particularly damaging when nutsedge enters crop fields, vegetable gardens, or ornamental lawns.
The weed is also allelopathic, meaning the roots release harmful chemicals that impact other plants.
Because of its complicated underground system of tubers, it’s also very tough to get rid of and can withstand most attempts to take it down.
More or less, once nutsedge has infested your crops or garden, it’s going to be a battle to keep it from wiping out your plants.
Benefits of Nutsedge
Remember, weeds are just plants in the wrong place. As a plant, nutsedge has plenty of benefits and advantages.
As far back as two thousand years ago, Cyperus rotundus or nutsedge may have been used to prevent tooth decay in early Sudanese people.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Cyperus rotundus is an important herb used to regulate qi, which is the life force or energy of the body.
Similarly, in ayurvedic medicine, Cyperus rotundus is known as “musta moola churna” and is used to regulate the body and treat minor maladies.
Today, holistic medicine utilizes the plant for fever, nausea, and pain relief. Typically, the roots are burned or roasted and used that way.
Food and Nutrition
For migrating birds, the tubers of the Cyperus rotundus plant are a good source of minerals and nutrition.
In some tropical agrarian cultures today, it’s a base carbohydrate and famine food. It also serves as good building material when dried and weaved, making mats, clothing, and insulation.
How Does Nutsedge Spread
One of the most troublesome aspects of nutsedge as a weed is its high tolerance and adaptability.
While it loves poorly drained, moist lawns or plots of land that stay wet for too long, it can thrive just about anywhere.
And once it is established, very few weather conditions can starve it out. It can even withstand a drought.
But usually, outbreaks begin in poorly irrigated, overwatered, wet soil, where they quickly develop into large colonies. They are “social” weeds and can spread exponentially under these conditions.
This is due to their extensive root systems and tubers, which can reach as far as four feet deep in the ground. Clearly, pulling them like other common weeds isn’t going to solve your problem.
So, what will?
How To Get Rid of Nutsedge
When you pull weeds up in your gardens, you pull the entire plant out of the ground, roots and all. This effectively kills the weed. But not nutsedge!
If you attempt to pull up the weed, the root system is so deep that the plant will break off at the surface, leaving tubers in the ground for new plants to emerge.
Similarly, plowing a field in which the weed has spread will distribute these same tubers around, which can worsen the problem. Those tubers are tough and have the ability to reproduce asexually.
Prevention and cultural control are the best way to naturally treat a lawn, garden, or field with a nutsedge problem.
Planting healthy, fast-growing grasses that won’t choke out your other plants is one great way to protect against this weed.
Low-lying, poorly drained areas are ripe for colonies to grow and spread, so remedying this problem and avoiding overwatering and over-sprinkling is another defense against the weed.
In addition, this weed loves compacted soil. Aerating and mowing your lawn as needed is also a helpful way to ensure your yard isn’t preferred nutsedge territory.
Herbicides and weed killers are generally ineffective against nutsedge because of the deep-rooted tubers.
However, a few specific chemical controls can aid in ridding your yard of your weed problem.
Glyphosate will almost certainly kill the plant down to the tubers but will take most other surrounding plants down.
Halosulfuron-methyl and dichlorophenoxyacetic acid are a bit safer for lawns and gardens but are less effective and require more applications to see results.
Ultimately, cultural and chemical measures are necessary to control the situation effectively.
If you don’t like using chemicals on your lawn, you may have to put some blood, sweat, and tears into natural control efforts.
It is possible to dig up nutsedge rather than pull it out, but it would require digging up the entire plant – tubers and all.
This could involve digging tons of 5-foot-deep holes throughout your yard, garden, or field to eradicate the root system.
Final Thoughts on Nutsedge
Like most plants, nutsedge has its positives and negatives. Depending on who you ask, this weed isn’t a weed at all!
But for most home gardeners, landscapers, and farmers, nutsedge isn’t a friend, and it’s important to know how to pick it out from helpful grasses and begin to control the pesky plant.
For more information about weeds, identification, and control methods, check out our page all about Common Weeds.