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In A Song of Ice and Fire, what are rushes? They are commonly referred to as being scattered on the floor, and are usually either fresh or old.

  • 4
    Why is this question closed as off topic? I did not know what rushes were when I read the books, I just assumed they were some kind of plants, and this explanation is actually quite interesting. – TLP Jun 18 '13 at 10:42
  • I'd like to know the answer to that as well. This question does relate to science fiction and fantasy. Seems like a perfectly good and concise question to ask, along with a really good answer. – smstanton Jun 18 '13 at 19:21
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    @TLP and 3rasmus: the question is really "what does this word mean". The fact that the word is used in a science fiction or fantasy work does not mean that it actually relates to sci-fi/fantasy. It's really not any different than asking "what is a cravat?" after reading a sci-fi story where one of the characters wears one. – Beofett Jun 19 '13 at 14:58
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    @Beofett I do not find it a strange question at all in the context of sharing knowledge about what rushes are and what they used to be used for. It is splitting hairs to simplify the question of "In A Song of Ice and Fire, what are rushes? " to "What does the word 'rushes' mean?". They are not the same question at all. The answer to the former is below, the answer to the latter is (for example): any grasslike plant of the genus Juncus, having pithy or hollow stems, found in wet or marshy places – TLP Jun 19 '13 at 17:03
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    @TLP You asked "why is this question closed as off topic". As a courtesy to your request, I provided an answer, so that both you and the OP would understand why it was closed. If you'd like to debate whether the reason provided is justified or not, the correct place for that is meta, not in comments. – Beofett Jun 19 '13 at 23:48
53

Rushes (Juncaceae family) are a sweet smelling, flowering plant that has been used for a number of domestic purposes including flooring material. When fresh, they added both insulation and a pleasant aroma to cover up the--frequently--muddy earthen floor. When old, some homes/cultures simply strew more rushes over the top to cover them and either rarely if ever cleaned them out. Other families might clean them out weekly or monthly.

Straw is used for a similar purposes as bedding and floor covering for animals. But as I grew up on a farm, I can attest straw is both itchier and not as sweet smelling as rushes. :-)

enter image description here

From Wikipedia:

In medieval Europe, loose fresh rushes would be strewn on earthen floors in dwellings for cleanliness and insulation. Particularly favored for such a purpose was Acorus calamus (sweet flag), but despite its alternate vernacular name "sweet rush", it is a plant from a different monocot order, Acorales.

Photo of flowering rushes

— Article on Juncaceae

  • It seems unlikely they were just dropped on the ground to lie there. Movement would create a path as you would kick them aside, even without intending to. Especially the walkways that were used more often than others. It is more likely they were tied together or folded somehow to create 'mats' of rushes, which were then placed on the ground. (I had a link with information on it somewhere, but now I cannot find it. Will add when I run into it again.) – spoorlezer Oct 1 '15 at 9:37
2

Rushes are a plant material that cover the floor of most rooms. They are used in place of carpets though some richer places do have access to carpets.

The chamber was richly furnished. Myrish carpets covered the floor instead of rushes, and in one corner a hundred fabulous beasts cavorted in bright paints on a carved screen from the Summer Isles.
A Game of Thrones, Eddard IV

The rushes are usually fresh and sweet smelling when laid first.

The Queen's Ballroom was not a tenth the size of the castle's Great Hall, only half as big as the Small Hall in the Tower of the Hand, but it could still seat a hundred, and it made up in grace what it lacked in space. Beaten silver mirrors backed every wall sconce, so the torches burned twice as bright; the walls were paneled in richly carved wood, and sweet-smelling rushes covered the floors.
A Clash of Kings, Sansa V

Though they do go old, dirty and start to rot and so need changing, they are plant material after all.

The chambers stank of rotted food, and the rushes were crawling with vermin.
A Feast for Crows, Jaime III

The wall hangings were green with mildew, the mattress musty-smelling and sagging, the rushes old and brittle. Years had come and gone since these chambers had last been opened. The damp went bone deep. "I'll have a basin of hot water and a fire in this hearth," he told the crone. "See that they light braziers in the other rooms to drive out some of the chill. And gods be good, get someone in here at once to change these rushes."
A Clash of Kings, Theon I

  • A question about "what is this thing from this book?" is typically not answered with "look at the quotes about this thing that I found from the book". Additionally, this answer does not really add anything the existing answers do not already cover. – amflare Dec 14 '17 at 15:56
  • @amflare The question is what are rushes? I say a sweet smelling plant used in place of carpets. The existing answer says here's what rushes are in our world. I'm saying they're the same as in our world and here's the quotes to back it up. – TheLethalCarrot Dec 14 '17 at 16:08
  • Ah. That could probably be better articulated. Especially since OP didn't know what they were in our world. – amflare Dec 14 '17 at 16:21
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I finally figured them out out of context. Carpets/rugs are much preferred yet are a costly item in that period reserving them to the wealthy. Tapestries also come in to play. We think of them as soley decorative, but they also insulated rooms and helped in deading sound so castles would not seem to cavernous as sound bounced off stone walls. Once again a luxury item not normally found in a smallfolk hovel.

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