Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Carex Sedges part 3, the small species

Part three consists of species with smaller fruiting structures. While most sedges are wetland oriented, this first batch of species are found in woodland habitats.

Wood Sedge, Carex blanda. This species usually shows 1-2 spikelets at the top of the plant. The perigynia are bluish white mixed with green. They are inflated and look like green eggs or mini water balloons. They have a very short beak at their tips. The staminate spike (on the right) has scales with a distinct green line down the center. The bottom of the plant has very wide leaves like an Iris or Cattail.

Broad Loose-flowered Sedge, Carex laxiflora. At frist glance, it looks just like blanda. With these smaller sedges, you better get on your hands and knees and use a lens. The fruit is more green than bluish, and the perigynia are more elongated. The fruit is often tucked into the leaves. The small beak is colored white. laxiflora and its relatives are very difficult to tell apart from photos.

Pennsylvania Sedge, Carex pensylvanica. This is a common species found in dry upland woods, especially where oaks grow. It has narrow grass like leaves that grow in clumps. It could be mistaken for a grass, but follow the leaves out to the end and check the fruit. This is an early spring bloomer, the flower of which I pictured in part 1.

Oak Sedge, Carex albicans. Another woodland species with brown needle like fruit. It's also called White-tinged Sedge, as the brown fruit has scales that are partially white. This is also a clump forming species.

Brome or Tussock Sedge, Carex bromoides. The fruits are narrow and small, and like the previous species, will grow erect and eventually lean over. So what is different about this one? Habitat. Look for this in wet woods and swamps. The upland species tend to form scattered clumps, while Brome Sedge can dominate an entire bottomland.

Swan's Sedge, Carex swanii. Another woodland species with short compact fruit heads. There are whitish scales that point outward, giving it a slight hairy look. To my eye, I remember this one because they look like Q-tips.

Hairy-leaved Sedge, Carex hirsutella. Another compact fruiting species. The upper photo was taken several weeks after the bottom photo, and at different locations. I don't think these are Q-tip similar at all. The fruit is essentially smooth. The leaves on the other hand, especially down at the bottom, are very hairy.

"This looks just like the last one." I wonder how many times people have said that reading these posts.
Meadow Sedge, Carex granularis. The perigynia are tightly packed and round like BB's or bits of grain (granularis). Each perigynia has many veins. The leaves are not hairy like the above species. Though short, there are sharp pointed scales protruding outward from the fruit. This species is found in mixed habitats.

Ribbed Sedge, Carex virescens. This is another hairy species, especially on the stems. The fruit is not compact but elongated and skinny, like a pipe cleaner.

Not a great pic, but I think you can see the comparison. Take the Q-tip of swanii on the left, and STRETCH it out, and you have virescens.

Blue Sedge, Carex glaucodea. This is found in both woodlands and open sites. The narrow fruit tend to hug the stems. A similar pipe cleaner shape as in virescens, but a greener color due to the lack of as many hairs. This is another species that you have to examine the leaves down low. They are blue-green or glaucous coated.

Flat-spiked Sedge, Carex planispicata. A species of well drained sites. Notice how each perigynia grows in an alternate fashion called 2-ranked. Important recognition factor is the flattened fruit.

Twisted Sedge, Carex torta. These sedges are starting to look more like grass seed. This is a skinny fruiting species found along streams. The spikes sometimes start to hang down at the top. The tip of the perigynia is curved or twisting away from the plant. The scales are brown striped.

Graceful Sedge, Carex gracillima. A loose and weakly fruiting species, even more so than torta. The round perigynia have virtually no beak at their tips. These could be mistaken for grasses such as Leersia. If it wasn't for the drooping look, they might also resemble Plantain. Look for this in wetland soils.

Slender Woodland Sedge, Carex digitalis. Take a specimen of gracillima above, and shake it till most of the fruit have fallen off, and you have digitalis. It really does look bare, as if it had shed most of the perigynia already. This is a sparse fruiting, drooping species. Use a hand lens and you'll see the fruit is not flat or round, but 3-sided.

Spreading Sedge, Carex laxiculmis. A big leaved species with thin, weak fruiting stems. Spikelets are short and dangle like a bell on long peduncles. Sometimes confused with digitalis above, the perigynia are more tightly packed into a rounder cluster. The staminate spikes grow erect and are found well above the pistillate portions.

Grey Sedge, Carex grisea.

Narrow-leaved Sedge, Carex amphibola. Both of these are similar to planispicata further above. In fact the three of them were once combined into a single species. These two do NOT have flat fruit like planispicata. All three have short fruiting heads with pointy scales sticking out between the perigynia. I await more information on how to separate these two.

Hirsute Sedge, Carex complanata. The fruit resembles C. hirsutella, which it was once combined. The distinguishing  character is the red stem. Rick found this at Lake Katherine. It is rare in Ohio, having been recorded in only a couple southern counties.

Green-star Sedge, Carex viridistellata. A newly described species that Andrew Gibson showed me in Adams County. The fruits are small when compared to other spiked species I mentioned before. This is found on open hillside seeps and wetland soils of prairies and fens.

Finally, we've reached the end. I hope to add both photos and new information to these sedge posts in the future. For now I include another "maybe" pic, emphasizing that photos alone don't always do the trick. This looks like Drooping Sedge, Carex prasina, a species of woodland streams. You need to examine those prickly scales and see if they are both flat and bent. The perigynium has only 2 veins. Most sedges have more.


  1. THANK YOU SO MUCH! I googled "small sedges" and found this great list.
    Julie (Westchester County, NY)