Junco is a wetland perennial plant, commonly known by various names such as common rush, mat rush, or soft-rush. It ranges from 30cm to 1m in height.
Photo by Pedro Arsénio
It can be found throughout Portugal in bogs, marshes, and swamps. The species provides wildfowl, wader feeding, and nesting habitats, and also habitats for small mammals. The rootstalks are eaten by muskrats, and birds take shelter amongst the plant’s stems. A number of invertebrates feed on soft rush, including the rufous minor moth. Despite requiring consistently moist soil and preferring full sun, it can tolerate some shade. Plants will spread in the landscape by rhizomes and by self-seeding.
If the temperature is moderate, junco is harvested using a brush cutter in June. Otherwise, to ensure safety and prevent fires, it is manually harvested with the assistance of a sickle.
After harvesting, junco is spread on the ground and turned periodically to ensure uniform drying. Subsequently, it is bundled and separated only when needed. The upper portion of the fiber, including the flowers, is trimmed and discarded, while the lower part undergoes a washing and sulphuring process before being utilized. Even though junco is traditionally mostly used in utilitarian baskets for activities like picnics or going to the market, it is also employed in mats.
Woven on a loom, it is a highly recognizable craft distinguished by the use of colours and patterns. Growing naturally, not only is human intervention unnecessary but there is also no need for using pesticides, fertilizers, or pollutants. Additionally, when used in basketry making, the majority of the raw material process operates without electricity. Today, there is a huge trend in adapting the traditional Portuguese market baskets into handbags of different sizes, complemented by the addition of some appointments in design that make them easier to wear and a more contemporary and sophisticated look.