Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Eleocharis dulcis
(Chinese water chestnut)



Eleocharis dulcis (Chinese water chestnut)


  • Last modified
  • 22 November 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Eleocharis dulcis
  • Preferred Common Name
  • Chinese water chestnut
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae

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E. dulcis: 1, habit; 2, young spikelet; 3, old spikelet; 4, corm.

Reproduced from the series 'Plant Resources of South-East Asia', Vols. 
1-20 (1989-2000), by kind permission of the PROSEA Foundation, Bogor, 
TitleMorphological detail - line drawing
CaptionE. dulcis: 1, habit; 2, young spikelet; 3, old spikelet; 4, corm. Reproduced from the series 'Plant Resources of South-East Asia', Vols. 1-20 (1989-2000), by kind permission of the PROSEA Foundation, Bogor, Indonesia.
CopyrightPROSEA Foundation
E. dulcis: 1, habit; 2, young spikelet; 3, old spikelet; 4, corm.

Reproduced from the series 'Plant Resources of South-East Asia', Vols. 
1-20 (1989-2000), by kind permission of the PROSEA Foundation, Bogor, 
Morphological detail - line drawingE. dulcis: 1, habit; 2, young spikelet; 3, old spikelet; 4, corm. Reproduced from the series 'Plant Resources of South-East Asia', Vols. 1-20 (1989-2000), by kind permission of the PROSEA Foundation, Bogor, Indonesia. PROSEA Foundation


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Eleocharis dulcis (Burm.f.) Trinius ex Henschel (1833)

Preferred Common Name

  • Chinese water chestnut

Other Scientific Names

  • Andropogon dulce Burm. f. (1768)
  • Eleocharis equisetina Presl
  • Eleocharis indica Druce
  • Eleocharis plantaginea Roemer & Schultes (1817)
  • Eleocharis tuberculosa (Michx.) R. & S.
  • Eleocharis tuberosa Roemer & Schultes (1824)
  • Heleocharis plantaginoidea W.F. Wight (1905)

International Common Names

  • Spanish: cabezas de negrito
  • French: châtaigne d'eau; scirpe doux

Local Common Names

  • Cambodia: mëm phlông
  • Indonesia: babawangan; peperetan; teki
  • Malaysia: tike; ubi puron
  • Philippines: apulid; buslig; pagappo
  • Thailand: haeo; haeo-chin
  • Vietnam: max thafy; nawn ngojt

EPPO code

  • ELODU (Eleocharis dulcis)

Taxonomic Tree

Top of page
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Cyperales
  •                         Family: Cyperaceae
  •                             Genus: Eleocharis
  •                                 Species: Eleocharis dulcis

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Top of page E. dulcis is a sedge belonging to the family Cyperaceae.

In Japan the cultivated form has been classified as var. tuberosa but classification into cultivar groups and cultivars would be more appropriate.

In the literature Eleocharis can sometimes be found as Heleocharis.


Top of page E. dulcis is an aquatic, perennial sedge which grows to a height of 1.5 m. The leafless stems are round, smooth, 2-10 mm thick and transversely septate. Tubers are often formed at the ends of the stolons (Pancho and Soerjani, 1978). The single spikelet is cylindrical, broader than the stem, and several-to-many flowered. The glumes are spirally arranged; hypogynous bristles or scales are often present. E. dulcis propagates vegetatively by rhizome, tuber and seed.

This leafless plant is also known as a spikerush; dense populations of E. dulcis look like green spikes.

A perennial, rhizomatous, semiaquatic herb, often grown as an annual crop. Rhizome short with elongated stolons, each one often terminating in a zoned, depressed globose, brownish to blackish corm, 1-4 cm in diameter. Stem erect, terete, tufted, 40-200 cm tall, 3-10 mm in diameter, longitudinally striate, distinctly transversely septate, the intersepta 5-12 mm long, hollow, smooth, greyish to glossy dark green. Leaves reduced to some bladeless basal sheaths, 3-20 cm long, membranous, oblique or truncate at the apex, reddish brown to purple. Inflorescence a single, terminal, many-flowered spikelet, cylindrical, 1.5-6.0 x 3-6 mm, as thick as or somewhat thicker than the stem, apex obtuse to acute; glumes numerous, oblong, 4.0-6.5 x 1.7-3.2 mm, densely imbricate; flowers bisexual, with perianth of 6-8, filiform, unequal, white to brown bristles; stamens 3, anthers linear, 2-3 mm long; style 7-8 mm long, 2-3-fid, the enlarged base persistent in fruit. Fruit an obovoid nut (achene), 1.5-2.2 x 1.2-1.8 mm, shiny yellow to brown.


Top of page E. dulcis originates from South-East Asia. It has spread to tropical West Africa, Madagascar, India, China, Taiwan, Japan, northern Australia and the Pacific Islands (Soerjani et al., 1987).

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Last updated: 10 Jan 2020
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes


AngolaPresentHolm et al. (1979)
BeninPresentHolm et al. (1979)
Burkina FasoPresentHolm et al. (1979)
Congo, Democratic Republic of thePresentHolm et al. (1979)
Côte d'IvoirePresentHolm et al. (1979)
GhanaPresentHolm et al. (1979)
GuineaPresentHolm et al. (1979)
KenyaPresentCABI (Undated)Original citation: Hianes & Lye, 1983
MadagascarPresent, WidespreadHolm et al. (1979)
MaliPresentCABI (Undated)Original citation: Hom et al., 1979
MauritiusPresentHolm et al. (1979)
NigerPresentHolm et al. (1979)
NigeriaPresent, LocalizedHolm et al. (1977)
SenegalPresent, LocalizedHolm et al. (1977); Holm et al. (1979)
TanzaniaPresentHolm et al. (1979)
UgandaPresent, LocalizedHolm et al. (1977)
ZambiaPresentHolm et al. (1979)
ZimbabwePresentHolm et al. (1979)


CambodiaPresent, WidespreadHolm et al. (1979)
IndiaPresent, LocalizedKern (1974)
IndonesiaPresent, LocalizedCABI (Undated)Original citation: Soerjani et al. (1987)
JapanPresent, LocalizedHolm et al. (1977)
MalaysiaPresent, LocalizedMansor and Ahmad (1986)
PakistanPresentHolm et al. (1979)
PhilippinesPresent, LocalizedHolm et al. (1977)
Sri LankaPresentHolm et al. (1979)
TaiwanPresent, LocalizedHolm et al. (1977)
ThailandPresent, LocalizedHolm et al. (1977)
VietnamPresent, LocalizedHolm et al. (1977)

North America

Puerto RicoPresent, WidespreadHolm et al. (1979)
Trinidad and TobagoPresentHolm et al. (1979)
United StatesPresent, LocalizedHolm et al. (1977)


AustraliaPresent, LocalizedKern (1974)
FijiPresent, LocalizedKern (1974)
Papua New GuineaPresent, LocalizedKern (1974)


Top of page E. dulcis is an erect, perennial, aquatic and swamp sedge that is propagated by rhizomes, tubers and seed. Dense populations of the plant are recorded in swampy areas. E. dulcis thrives in water which is acidic (pH 3-6) and low in nutrients. It grows in open reed swamps, black water rivers, on the shores of lakes and in irrigation canals; it sometimes grows well in brackish swamps.

Habitat List

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Hosts/Species Affected

Top of page E. dulcis is a weed of drainage and irrigation canals where dense populations of the plant can impede water flow to agricultural areas such as ricefields. It is a problem, but not a serious weed, in tidal ricefields in Indonesia (Soerjani et al., 1987).

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContext
Oryza sativa (rice)PoaceaeHabitat/association

Growth Stages

Top of page Pre-emergence

Biology and Ecology

Top of page Growth and Development

About 6-8 weeks after corms have been planted they develop short subterranean rhizomes which start producing a number of daughter plants close to the mother stem, resulting in a clump. Because the plant does not develop normal leaves, the photosynthetic activity takes place in the numerous stems. When stems protrude about 15 cm above the surface of the water, they start forming inflorescences at their tips. Shortly after flowering, plants start producing corms at the end of about 12.5-cm-long stolons which grow downwards into the mud at an angle of 45° to the surface of the mud. About 7-8 months after planting, the new corms are mature and the stems turn brown and eventually die.

Other Botanical Information

E. dulcis is extremely polymorphic, widely distributed and also extensively cultivated. The wild forms usually produce only very small, almost black corms up to 1 cm in diameter. The cultivated forms have more robust stems and larger, sweeter, purplish to brownish corms, up to 4 cm in diameter and about 2.5 cm long.


Chinese water chestnut occurs in open places both in salt or brackish and in fresh water swamps, often forming pure stands surrounding the open water, from sea-level up to 1350 m altitude and as far as 40°N latitude in China. A long, warm growing season with at least 220 frost-free days is needed for crop growth. Corms will only sprout at soil temperatures above 14°C. The field should be kept inundated for at least 6 months. Preferred soils are rich clay or muck soils with a pH of 6.9-7.3. Chinese water chestnut can be grown successfully in slightly more acid soils provided that these are limed.

E. dulcis is considered a dominant weed in the east coast states of Peninsular Malaysia, growing well in black water rivers and marshes, water bodies which are generally acidic in nature (Mansor and Ahmad, 1986).

In Malaysia, populations of E. dulcis are gradually decreasing due to the destruction of their habitat; most of the swamp areas which are dominated by Eleocharis are currently being converted into housing estates and industrial areas.

E. dulcis thrives in water which is acidic (pH 3-6) and low in nutrients. It grows in open reed swamps, black water rivers, on the shores of lakes and in irrigation canals; it sometimes grows well in brackish swamps.


Top of page E. dulcis causes blockages in the irrigation channels which supply water to the ricefields; the weed does not appear to affect rice yields directly.

The tubers of E. dulcis have marketable value; they are sold not only in South-East Asian countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia, but also in supermarkets in the USA (see "Uses").


Top of page Chinese water chestnut (tuber or corm) is used as a vegetable both raw or cooked in numerous local dishes such as omelettes, soups, salads, meat and fish dishes, and even in sweet dishes in China, Indo-China, Thailand and other parts of South-East Asia. The larger corms are widely eaten raw as a substitute for fresh fruits. In the warmer parts of China, E. dulcis has been cultivated and developed into a strain yielding tubers which are of superior size and sweetness to those produced by wild plants. The tubers are considered a delicacy in China, where they are eaten raw as a substitute for fresh fruit due to their crisp apple-like flesh (Kern, 1974). The tubers sold in some supermarkets in Malaysia are imported from China. The smaller corms are used principally for making starch. In Indonesia and the Philippines, the corms are usually made into chips ('emping teki'). Stems are used for making sleeping mats (Sumatra, Sulawesi) and skirts (Papua New Guinea). They are also used as cattle feed or as mulch. The juice expressed from the corms contains antibiotic 'puchiin', which is effective against Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Aerobacter aerogenes.

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed


  • Soil improvement

Human food and beverage

  • Flour/starch
  • Vegetable


  • Fibre

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Source of medicine/pharmaceutical

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

Top of page The leafless stems and single terminal spikelet distinguish Eleocharis species from most other sedges. Twelve species from the Eleocharis genus are classified as weeds. E. dulcis is distinguished from most other weedy Eleocharis species by its robust, perennial nature, inflorescences and thick, round, hollow stems; the species is fairly difficult to distinguish in the field.

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.

E. dulcis is not usually a serious weed within crops after thorough land preparation. In the situations where it needs to be controlled, in irrigation and drainage ditches, it is destroyed mechanically using heavy machinery.

Links to Websites

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GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

Distribution Maps

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