Carex sp.

Narrow-leaf Sedge Carex grisea (forest and wet prairie) Photo by Iralee Barnard

Sedges are perennial herbs often over-looked or mistaken for grasses. They differ from grasses in that “sedges have edges,” which means the stem is triangular in cross-section, usually with three, well-defined edges seen and felt. Grass stems are round. When viewed from above, a sedge plant has three-ranked leaves, each leaf radiating from the stem approximately 120 degrees relative to the leaf below it. Grass leaves are two-ranked, each leaf radiating from the stem on the side opposite the leaf below it.

Sedges comprise a large group of interesting and important species. Besides growing along edges of streams and ponds, they can be found in colonies on damp prairie slopes and low moist draws where they often

Bottle-brush Sedge Carex hystericina (standing or running water) Photo by Iralee Barnard

compose a large portion of the vegetation.

Sedge fruits, called “achenes,” are valuable food for wildlife, especially ducks and other waterfowl. Plants are used for food and nest materials by beaver and muskrat. Sedge plants are important forage for livestock in native range and as hay. In the spring, deer seek out sedges as food.

Spikerush, umbrella sedge and bulrush are other large groups of grasslike plants that belong to the Sedge Family. Some 30 species of Carex occur in the Flint Hills. They are most showy when fruit capsules ripen. A few ripen in early spring, but most mature in June. The different fruiting spikes in these photographs reveal the great variety in sedge species.

Mead’s Sedge Carex meadii (upland prairie) Photo by Iralee Barnard