This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol5-6", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
This Arctic plant is found in Preglacial deposits in Norfolk and Suffolk, and at Hoxne, Suffolk, in Interglacial beds. To-day it is to be found in N. Temperate and Arctic Europe, except N. Asia, N. America. In Great Britain it is found in every part of the country except W. Gloucs, Montgomery, Mid Lancs. It is commonly distributed elsewhere from the Shetlands to Cornwall and Sussex, and up to 3500 ft. in the Highlands, as well as in Ireland and the Channel Islands.
The upland bogs are characterized in some parts by the prevalence of Cotton Grass giving rise to a typical botanical association. Not only does this one grow at high elevations, but also in more lowland situations, and in marshes with sedges and orchids of a less special nature. The waving tufts of cottony bristles, borne on long, slender, drooping stems give this a peculiar habit of its own.
The habit of the Narrow-leaved Cotton Grass is like that of the others, sedge- or grass-like. There is a long, stout rootstock. The stem is wiry, solid, rigid, bluntly 3-angled or nearly round in section, stout, smooth, leafy, not tufted. The leaves are nearly all radical, and variable a good deal in breadth, and are flat, and triangular above for more than half the length, channelled below, smooth, linear.
The flowers are in a cyme, with solitary (or more) heads. The bracts are 2-3. The glumes are lead colour, egg-shaped, oblong, lance-shaped, with a broad membranous margin. The fruit-stalks are smooth. There are 4-12 spikelets, and the bristles are 1 to 2 in. long, three or four times as long as the spikes. The nuts are inversely egg-shaped, blunt-pointed.
This Cotton Grass is 18 in. high. The flowers bloom in May and June. The plant is perennial, propagated by division.
The Cotton Grasses are all pollinated by the agency of the wind. The flowers are perfect or bisexual. There are 3 stamens, and the style is as long as the perianth, which is represented by the bristles, and is not enlarged below, at length falling. There are 3 turned-back stigmas. When pollination has taken place the perianth or bristles get longer, and together form the cotton so characteristic of this group, which, owing to the crowded flowers in this form, are very conspicuous when full size. The nut is provided, moreover, with this light, silky cotton, a fringe of hairs, as a means of dispersal by the wind.
A beetle, Cryptocephalus biguttatus, Lepidoptera, Elachistes eleo-chariella, E. rhynchosporiella, Marsh Ringlet, Coenonympha typhon, Glyphipteryx haworthana, Haworth's Minor (Celoena haworthii), are found on it.
Eriophorum, Theophrastus, is from the Greek erion, cotton, and phero, I bear or carry, from the cottony heads, and angustifolium (Latin) refers to the narrow leaves.
It is called Cat's-tails, Sniddle Flock, Moor Grass. The second name is from its resemblance to flocks of wool. Sniddle is a generic name applied to sedges generally and to allied plants.
The hairs have been used for pillow-linings since Pliny's day, as well as for cushions. The cotton is of too brittle a texture to weave, but it has been used for articles of dress in Germany, and for paper. The country folk once used the cotton as wick for lamps.
Cotton Grass (Eriophorum angustifolium, Roth)
Essential Specific Characters: 323. Eriophorum angustifolium, Roth. - Stem rigid, rounded, leaves linear, flat, triangular above, peduncles smooth, spikelets corymbose bristles three times as long.