Species of Eleocharis are prominent in aquatic and wetland habitats and serve as models for study of physiological adaptations to aquatic environments. The genus has an unusual morphology because the major photosynthetic organ is the stem. In order to define an architectural model for the genus to understand the evolution of this morphology, we examined mature morphology and development of E. cellulosa in living and fixed material using light and scanning electron microscopy. Eleocharis cellulosa has sympodial, vertical shoots that produce the photosynthetic culms and horizontal shoots that mix monopodial and sympodial development. Each sympodial unit produces three bracts, an elongated photosynthetic internode, then a fourth bract and an inflorescence that either aborts on vegetative culms or expands on reproductive culms. On each sympodium, the first bract subtends a precocious axillary bud that reiterates the sympodial unit; the second bract subtends a bud that develops the horizontal shoot. In both horizontal and vertical shoots, the internode below the second bract is produced by both the second bract and the renewal shoot. Sympodial growth is present in seedlings. In other species of Eleocharis, the structure of the sympodial unit is conserved but morphological diversity develops from variation in horizontal shoot growth.