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(Sedge family)


Generally known as sedges, perhaps 4000 species in 90 genera have been described from all parts of the world.

Certain members of this family are noted for the readiness with which the edges of their leaves can cause lacerations of the skin.

Bulbostylis mucronata C.B.Clarke

This species has been found to be a hyperaccumulator of cobalt when growing on soils rich in this element. Brooks et al. (1980) reported a cobalt content of 4200 ppm in dried plant material. The contact sensitising capacity of cobalt and its salts is well documented (Cronin 1980, Malten et al. 1976).

Carex L.

Between 1500 and 2000 species are of cosmopolitan distribution, being especially common in wet and marshy locations in temperate regions.

The leaves, which have fine sawing and cutting edges, made harder by the presence of silica in the superficial cells, can cause mechanical irritation of the hands of basket weavers and persons in allied occupations (Schwartz et al. 1957).

Howes (1974) notes that members of this genus in New Zealand are liable to cut the hands.

Carex macrocephala Willd.

The large prickly heads of a plant thought to be this species are injurious to the feet (Turner & Bell 1971).

Carex elata All. subsp. elata
[syn. Carex stricta Gooden.]

Wimmer (1926) refers to the silicaceous saw-tooth like edges of the leaves of this species as a possible cause of mechanical injury.

Cladium P.Browne

Between 50 and 60 species are found in tropical and temperate regions especially in Australia; one species is of almost cosmopolitan distribution.

Cladium jamaicense Crantz
[syn. Cladium germanicum Schrad.]

Stinging ants have been reported to inhabit the hollow stems of this species (Wheeler 1942).

Cladium mariscus R.Br.
Razor Grass

This and related sedges have long knife-like leaves armed with small sharp teeth.

Cyperus L.
Umbrella Plant

About 550 species are found in tropical and warm temperate regions.

Cyperus papyrus L. provided the well known papyrus of Egypt which afforded the Ancient Egyptians the compressed pith upon which they wrote their records. The stem was split into thin strips, which were pressed together while still wet (Burkill 1935).

Cyperus exaltatus Retz. var. iwasakii
[syn. Cyperus iwasakii Makino]

The dried stems are made into rush mats; several persons who cultivated the plant developed contact dermatitis (Eun 1984).

Cyperus longus L.

The juice is irritant to the skin (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Cyperus rotundus L.
Nutgrass Purple Nutsedge, Cocograss

In NW Moroccan traditional medicine, stem galls from this plant mixed with henna leaves (Lawsonia inermis L., fam. Lythraceae) are powdered and kneaded with water to make a hair tonic for external application (Merzouki et al. 2000).

Patch tests carried out using the leaves of this species crushed in a small quantity of normal saline elicited no positive reactions in 17 contact dermatitis patients tested in New Delhi, India (Singh et al. 1978).

Gahnia J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.
Cutting Grass

Forty species are native to China, Malaysia, Australia, and eastwards to Polynesia and Hawai‘i.

Gahnia psittacorum Labill.

Cleland (1925) thought that it was this species that possessed leaf edges capable of producing deep cuts in the skin.

Scirpus holoschoenus L.

This species was incriminated in a case of Oppenheim's meadow dermatitis as the cause of photosensitivity (Mariconda 1936).

These plants should not be confused with Typha latifolia L. (fam. Typhaceae), which is commonly known as the great reedmace or bulrush.

Scirpus lacustris L.

The plant is used to make chair seats and mats. Dermatitis from reed matting derived from bulrushes was probably due to the reed bug Chilactis (Szegő & Balogh 1965).

Scirpus paludosus Nelson
Bayonet Grass

The spiny leaves (Howes 1974) are capable of producing mechanical injury.

Scleria Bergius
Cut Grass

Some 200 species are found in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Howes (1974) notes that West Indian species of this genus are liable to cut the hands. von Reis & Lipp (1982) recorded a note from an herbarium specimen of an unidentified Scleria species that the sharp edges could cut the skin of animals and man.

Scleria bracteata Cav.
Cut Grass

The rough edges of the leaves inflict painful cuts and scratches on any exposed surface of the skin (Allen 1943).

Scleria oryzoides J.S. & C.Presl

The leaves are rough and are used for polishing wood (Burkill 1935).

Scleria secans Urb.

The edges of the leaves may cut the skin like knives (Allen 1943).

Uncinia hamata Urb.
[syn. Uncinia jamaicensis Pers.]

The achenes terminate in hooked bristles which adhere closely to clothing and penetrate the skin (Standley 1937).


  • Howes FN (1974) A Dictionary of Useful and Everyday Plants and their Common Names. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Merzouki A, Ed-derfoufi F, Molero Mesa J (2000) Contribution to the knowledge of Rifian traditional medicine. II: Folk medicine in Ksar Lakbir district (NW Morocco). Fitoterapia 71(3): 278-307 [doi] [url] [pmid]
  • Singh R, Siddiqui MA, Baruah MC (1978) Plant dermatitis in Delhi. Indian Journal of Medical Research 68(Oct): 650-655 [url] [pmid]
  • Watt JM, Breyer-Brandwijk MG (1962) The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern and Eastern Africa. Being an account of their medicinal and other uses, chemical composition, pharmacological effects and toxicology in man and animal, 2nd edn. Edinburgh: E & S Livingstone [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • [Others yet to be added]

Richard J. Schmidt

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