Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Cyperus esculentus
Yellow nutgrass, Field nut sedge, Chufa

Synonyms: Cyperus esculentus leptostachyus, Cyperus esculentus var. leptostachyus , Cyperus esculentus var. esculentus

Subspecific taxa:


Other taxonomic & nomenclature sources: USDA PlantsITISThe Plant ListIPNI


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Species Distribution
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County Map Legend
Not known from county
Medium confidence:
Medium or unknown confidence;
often old records or unverifiable observations
Medium-high confidence:
Often observations by expert botanists
High confidence:
Often vouchered herbarium records
Planted / introduced:
Native species introduced outside historic range,
or only in planted locations within county (e.g., restorations)
Historic / extirpated:
Only historic records for the species; likely extirpated
(Note that this category is not yet functional)

North American distribution maps for this species: FLNAUSDA PlantsBONAPBISON

Collections, Observations & Flowering by Month [?]


Collections & Observations by Decade [?]

Species Status

Status/Listing: No Information


Origin: Native

Species Description

General: Monocot, perennial


Shoots: alternate leaf arrangment; simple leaf type; entire leaf margin; Parallel leaf venation; awl-shaped leaf shape

Inflorescence: spike, head

Flowers: perfect; 3 merous; incomplete, not petals, not sepals; hypogynous ovary position


Physiology: autotrophic; C4 C02 fixation


Ecology & Natural History

Habitat: Species is distributed on upland, fairly sandy soils; sand and gravel bars along streams, prairie swales, along railroads, and occasionally swales in woodlands. Species is distributed on upland, fairly sandy soils; sand and gravel bars along streams, borders of artificial and natural lakes, swales; along railroads and occasionally swales in woodlands.

ILPIN Notes: Seed company no. 1. This can be a troublesome weed, especially in recently planted fields. Form - seeds planted between 1 April and 15 June at 25 lbs/acre drilled. Vegetative reproduction is by rhizomes and by the tubers. Terrestrial furbearers (especially squirrels) eat tubers as food. Roots = tubers. Scaly rhizomes and inflorescence identify this species; inflorescence with 3-10 broad involucral bracts; 1-several sessile spikes and 1-10 rays with spikes, spikes with long (6-30 flwrs); horizontal mostly, the scales of alternate flowers overlapping to give smooth spikelet outline - typical variety has 15 mm l, 1.5- 3.0 mm broad spikelets. Species is used as a starchy vegetable, flour, drink, and coffee substitute. Tubers and rhizomes for vegetative reproduction. Species is occasional but sporadic throughout Illinois. This variety has scaly rhizomes. Its spikes are narrower and larger, and its achenes are also narrower and longer, than those of var. esculentus.

Functional Relationships:

  • Pollinators:
  • Dispersal:
  • Mycorrhizae: no
  • N2 fixation:

Human Relationships:

  • Edibility [?] : yes
  • Showy Flowers:

Wildlife and Livestock Information:

  • Food Value: upland game birds: good; waterfowl: good; small non-game bird: good; small mammals: good
  • Cover Value:

Coefficient of Conservatism (C-value) [?] :

  • Entire State: 0
  • Chicago Area: 0

Comments & Questions

Post: 08/2018
Is this species native to Illinois, according to the USDA plants website it is not?

IL Plant Response:
There seems to be a lot of confusion with named varieties of Cyperus esculentus in our area. Mohlenbrock (2014- Vascular Flora of Illinois) lists C. esculentus var. esculentus occurring in every Illinois County, but the Flora of North America treatment says that taxa is found in the Old World. Wilhelm and Rericha (2017- Flora of the Chicago Region) list var. macrostachyus in the Chicago Region. So what is the name of what we have here?

According to Cyperus expert Gordon Tucker at Eastern Illinois University, the specimens he has seen from the Midwest are var. leptostachyus, whereas var. macrostachyus occurs mostly along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The bottom line is that the very common variety (leptostachyus) is native to Illinois. Another variety (var. macrostachyus) may occur here or nearby, but at this point it would be rare, and possibly introduced.

As a species, this common sedge occurs nearly worldwide. In the Midwest, it usually occurs in disturbed areas like wet spots in crop fields or along the margin of wetlands and streams. Look for the distinctive rhizomes/stolons that end in tubers to identify it (this is the -nut- part of nut sedge that can be seen in the image here,,
and in the pictures at the top of this page.

The genetic variation within this species no doubt contributes to its diverse behavior, many shapes and forms, worldwide success, and diverse regard among people and places. For example, it has the distinction of being a prized food crop in some places, with var. sativus having been a cultivated plant since at least 2400 BC in Egypt. At the same time, due to its aggressive nature, it is has been labelled as -The Worlds 16th Worst Weed- and -The Menace to the Corn Belt-, (for an excellent description see Rothrock 2009- Sedges of Indiana and the Adjacent States).

This is the most common of all Cyperus in Illinois. The primary mode of spread and reproduction is via the stolons, which can form tremendous vegetative colonies that are clones. It also sprouts from the tubers, since they persist underground, even when the plant is pulled out by its roots. Unlike some of the other common and similar looking of the so-called -bottle brushed- or -flat- Cyperus in Illinois (e.g., C. strigosus, C. erythrorhizos, C. odoratus), C. esculentus seldom produces seeds (achenes) because it is self-incompatible.

Compare w/ C. esculentus with C. strigosus

(Greg Spyreas & Paul Marcum)

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