Bulrush is abundant, grows spontaneously and is easily accessible. It is softer and more malleable than other natural fibres, while also being resistant to wear and tear, which makes the products more durable. These characteristics make bunho a perfect material for creating comfortable benches and chairs.
Bunho (bulrush, Schoenoplectus lacustris (L.) Palla) is a species of sedge, similar to flax or “lagoon reed”, also known as narrowleaf cattail. Photo by Pedro Arsénio
It has ornamental potential due to its corpulence, robustness and beauty of its inflorescences. It contributes to controlling erosion in riverside areas and purifying water. Photo by Pedro Arsénio
The flowers are presented in loose clusters of red-brown oval spikelets, near the top of the stems. Flowering takes place between June and September, and harvesting takes place in the months of June, July and August, with the leaf still green.
The bunho is harvested with sickles or scythes. Afterwards, it is spread on the ground, where it dries in the sun, on both sides, for some days. It is chosen and prepared in bundles. While drying, it must not be exposed to humidity or rain. Storage must be done in a very dry place, so that it does not grow mold, as it takes around six months to lose all of its water. It is essential to master the drying process and know how to recognize the right point so that it is neither too soft (which makes production difficult) nor too dry (because it becomes brittle and hurts hands during production). Once dry, bunho has a slow natural biological degradation and the fibers resist traction for several years.
It is softer and more malleable than other natural fibers, while also being resistant to wear and tear, which makes the products more durable. These characteristics make bunho a perfect material for furniture manufacture.
Existing throughout Portugal, with a greater incidence in the center and south, it’s challenging to determine when the tradition of bullrush craft began, although the art is very prominent in the Ribatejo region. Traditionally, it’s used to make furniture such as stools, chairs and sofas. It is also used to do the seats of the traditional wooden chairs and stools.
Nowadays there are a few basketweavers using it for baskets, bases and lamp shades. In order to work with it, the bulrush is watered the day before and soaked so that it doesn’t break or split. The top of the plant, used for the filling, is only sprayed with a few splashes of water to make it softer. Once the bulrush stems are dry and ready to work with, they are cut in half. The larger, stronger lower part is used for weaving and the thinner upper part is used to fill the piece. Bulrush has a positive impact as it helps to control erosion in riverside areas and purify water, and harvesting it allows for it to keep growing in a healthy way. There are no industrial producers or suppliers, and the production process is primarily driven by men due to the physical strength required for the craft.
Photos by Pedro Arsénio