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Scientific Name:
Schoenopletus acutus
Native Name(s):
  1. Northern Paiute: sai’ (Kelly 1932); sa’i (Kelly 1932); saibu (Kelly 1932); saibü (Kelly 1932); sai (Fowler 1989); saib (Fowler 1989)
  2. Klamath: Mä'-i (Coville 1897)


Schoenoplectus acutus is a perennial, rhizomatous, wetland species that grows up to 3 m tall. Stems are upright, round in cross-section, and can vary from gray-green to dark-green. Leaves are few, short and found at or near the base of the plant and commonly have a well-developed sheath. The inflorescence is a terminal panicle of 3 to 10 spikes with 50 or more spikelets. The perianth is reduced to bristles and an ovary bearing 2 to 3 stigmas. The seed is a dark brown lenticular achene up to 2.5 mm long, ripening in late August to September. 

Identification Tips

Schoenoplectus acutus can be distinguished by its terminal inflorescences that are panicle-like with erect or spreading bracts. In cross section, the stems are round. It is distinguished from Schoenoplectus americanus that has a head-like inflorescence and in cross section it is three-sided with deep grooves.

Starch Granules

This is a starch rich species. Granules from seeds are irregular in shape, often spherical to oblong or slightly angular. They can be up to 8 microns across with a semi-eccentric hilum. Granules are asymmetrical, typically with two larger and two smaller quadrants.


Schoenoplectus acutus grows below 2500 m in elevation in inundated to periodically wet areas of marshes, swamps, and meadows and along lake, reservoir, and pond shorelines. 


This species is distributed throughout North America, except in the southeastern United States.


The Northern Paiute used Schoenoplectus acutus by eating the roots cooked or raw, and making twine or mats that were used in multiple ways.

As food

Northern Paiute: "To the northwest were the Klamath (Modoc), known as Pama'ha  sai', or, more commonly, Sai', given once as Sa'ibtikad, Tule-Eaters." (Kelly 1932:70)

Northern Paiute: "Roots of young tule and cat-tail were gathered, broken open, and the white meat eaten uncooked.  It was not dried."(Kelly 1932:103)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the leaves and stems of saib (tule, Scirpis acutus)] saib, tule. The roots of the tule are pulled by reaching into the water and grasping the tule near the roots.  The root is broken off and the part under the water above the root is peeled and eaten raw." (Fowler 1989:49)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the leaves and stems of saib (tule, Scirpis acutus)] Tule roots are skinned and boiled or roasted." (Fowler 1989:49)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to the leaves and stems of saib (tule, Scirpis acutus)] The outer skin of the stalk of tule (saib) is removed and the inside is eaten raw.  Tule used to grow in great quantities along the river.  Now it is eaten in Fallon where there is a great deal of it.  It is gathered in August.  It is not kept for winter.  It is eaten only when it is fresh." (Fowler 1989:49)

Northern Paiute: "The Paiute and other tribes boiled down the roots [ofthe tules or bulrushes] to used them for sweetening." (Anderson 2005:205)

As shelter

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to winter houses] Houses in Surprise were usually grass-covered; those near Adel, tule-covered.  With the latter tules four or five feet in height were pierced with a bone awl (more recently a greasewood needle and nowadaysa sacking needle) and twine run through." (Kelly 1932:104)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to doorways of winter houses] At night it was closed by a grass or tule mat or by a deer skin or old blanket fastened outside." (Kelly 1932:105)

Northern Paiute: "The tule-covered lodge was called sa'i-nobi (saibu, tule; no'bi, house)." (Kelly 1932:105)

Northern Paiute: "Summer structures seem to have been of two principal types, the shade (haba') and the brush enclosure (dü'a-nobi; dü'a, round)...The sagebrush enclosure was even less formal than the shade, consisting of an unroofed circular enclosure about chest high.  The single entrance was closed with a tule mat." (Kelly 1932:105-106)

As clothing

Northern Paiute: "Sandals were not worn; in default of hide, a moccasin was twined of tule or of sagebrush bark.  Charlie Washo could remember old people who wore "tule shoes," but sagebrush bark seems to have been preferred." (Kelly 1932:109)

Northern Paiute: "If women did not have any skin to make a dress they made a skirt with tule.  The tule was placed closed together with wefts of wiha or string made from sagebrush bark....These tule skirts came below the knees.  Pamahanakwi was a tule or grass skirt made from pamahabi [spike rush, Eleocharis palustris]." (Fowler 1989:100)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to overshoes or snowboots] A wide sandal, "something like an overshoe" was made of tule (toi)...Sagebrush bark was stuffed between this tule overshoe and the moccasin." (Fowler 1989:107)

As a tool

Northern Paiute: "Dried meat was pounded with tallow, stored in tule bags, and buried beneath rocks and earth." (Kelly 1932:94)

Northern Paiute: "Dried fish were packed in an open-twine tule or sagebrush-bark sack 'like those the Modocs use only not as well made.' These bags were called mago'o (general word for container) and were possibly four feet in length and two feet in width." (Kelly 1932:97) 

Northern Paiute: "Bags for food storage were made of tule or of sagebrush bark, presumably in open twine.  They were described as 'like those the Modocs use only not as well made.'" (Kelly 1932:137)

Northern Paiute: "The balsa consisted of two bundles of tule (saibü) tied at the ends with the same material or with bark twine." (Kelly 1932:150)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to gill nets] These nets were about 4 ft high and 50 to 100 yds. long...At the ends of the net they have a long string with the end of the string tied to one end of a bunch of tule at the top.  When something gets into the net, it raises one end of the tules like a flag." (Fowler 1989:33, 35)

Northern Paiute: "Fish spears [harpoons] are used during the spawning season.  The shaft is 12 or more ft long.  It is made of tule spliced together and is about 1 1/2 in. in diameter.  The point of the harpoon was made of hard bone.  A string made of wiha was tied around the shaft and ran to a hole in the point."  (Fowler 1989:35)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to trout and sucker lines] The line was a long grass rope.  Bunches of tule were fastened to each end of it...The bunches acted as floats." (Fowler 1989:37)

Northern Paiute: "A fishing line about 200 yds long was used in Pyramid Lake.  At each end there was a bundle of tule about 2 ft in diameter.  Each bundle had an anchor-a rock.  Strings were suspended form the main line about a foot apart." (Fowler 1989:37)

Northern Paiute: "Fishing was done with wiha ropes a couple hundred ft. long to which about 30 bone hooks were attached...He has a large tule float in a circle about his neck.  It is tied to his neck.  He holds one end of rope in his mouth.  The other end is on the shore held by a man who keeps it from tangling.  He swims out as far as he can...He takes the float off his neck and ties the wiha rope to it as well as a stone sinker." (Fowler 1989:37)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to minnow lines] When this line was used for fishing in the lake a sinker was put near the first hook which was at the end of the line.  Not far from the other end was a tule float." (Fowler 1989:38)

Northern Paiute: "To make duck decoys (paido'), ducks are skinned and stuffed with sagebrush bark or tule, or anything that was light." (Fowler 1989:54)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to duck hunting] When a man hunted with decoys he hunted alone...The hunter was hidden in the tules.  He made a blind which was made by gathering together bunches of standing tule.  He wore a hat made of tules.  It was made by tying ends of tules erect in a sort of a headdress." (Fowler 1989:54)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to duck hunting] The decoys were made by skinning the ducks as soon as they were killed.  The skins were stuffed with tule or feathers...The decoys were put out in front of a blind where the hunter was hidden.  The blind is made of tule and grass growing along the lake.  The blind was a rude shelter made by standing up the tule and grass.  There was no roof over it." (Fowler 1989:55)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to mudhen drives] The best place for this drive used to be in a small shallow lake which was on the other side of a little ridge south from Pyramid Lake.  It was called saiya tukəd...It was a breeding place for mudhens...At saiya tukədmen went out on this shallow lake on tule rafts." (Fowler 1989:56)

Other uses

Northern Paiute: "Birth took place in a special house (huni'-no'bi) of tules or grass." (Kelly 1932:158)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to death observances] The dwelling might be burned, or the tule mats burned and the frame moved." (Kelly 1932:168)

Northern Paiute: "A number of wild plant species are tolerated, encouraged, or even transplanted to yards and fields on the reservation...Those encouraged or tolerated include willow, red-osier dogwood, balsamroot, blazing star, giant wild rye, juniper, bulrush, cattail, biscuitroot, and wild onion." (Couture et al. 1986:157)

Northern Paiute: "The antelope meat was dried on racks in the shade...When the meat was dried it was stored on a rack built near the house.  This rack (pa·soni) was made by putting four poles in the ground...Willow poles were put across these poles...This was then covered with grass (wiyab).  Then the dried meat was put on the grass and covered with 6 or 8 in. of grass or tule." (Fowler 1989:16)

Distribution Map: