Wool grass, sometimes spelled as one word, woolgrass, gets its common name from its obvious “woolly” appearance as it grows in clumps in wet areas. It’s also like wool in that Native Americans used this plant to make a comfy stuffing for pillows. While the Potawatomi used it for stuffing, the Ojibwa people used it to make bags and mats.
The term wool grass is something of a misnomer because this plant is not a grass but a sedge. It’s an aquatic emergent perennial found growing in colonies in wet areas, such as swamps, moist meadows, marshes, sloughs, ditches and on the edges of various bodies of water. It prefers peaty or sandy soils. It is found native throughout the eastern United States and Canada, mostly southern Canada.
This plant can be extremely variable in appearance which sometimes makes it difficult to identify accurately. Wool grass produces dense clumps hanging from upright stems. An average of five to 10 leaves are produced on each stem. The leaves have green and reddish sheaths. The flowers have six long bristles giving the inflorescence, or flower head, its characteristic woolly look.
Landscapers often find good use for wool grass because it provides wonderful fall color consisting of light browns, reddish browns and even a red-gold appearance. It also has considerable practical value for restoration projects, erosion control and storm-water management. Wool grass is often used to complete the designs of water gardens and rain gardens.
Wool grass generally favors sunny areas but will tolerate partial shade. It can also withstand short periods of standing water without drowning out. It reseeds itself aggressively -- thus it is recommended that it not be used with other plants that are easily out-competed.
Finally, wool grass tends to be pest free and resistant to deer.