Carex siccata (Dry-spike Sedge)

Plant Info
Also known as: Running Prairie Sedge
Family:Cyperaceae (Sedge)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; dry, sandy or rocky soil; prairies, savannas, Jack pine stands, dunes, rock outcrops, gravel pits, roadsides
Fruiting season:June - July
Plant height:6 to 36 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: UPL NCNE: UPL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Spikes: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowering spikes] 3 to 8 small spikes, stalkless, erect to ascending, usually crowded at the tip of the stem with the lower slightly separated from each other, the group of spikes (inflorescence) straight and 3/8 to 2 inches long. Spikes mostly have staminate (male) flowers at the tip and pistillate (female) flowers below (androgynous), rarely the opposite (gynecandrous), though the lower and/or middle spikes are more frequently unisex and the terminal spike sometimes all-pistillate. At the base of a lateral spike is an awned, scale-like bract, the lowest as long as or somewhat longer than the attending spike but much shorter than the inflorescence.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal

[photo of stem leaf sheath and ligule] Leaves are basal and alternate with 1 to 4 leaves on the lower fourth of the stem, 1 to 3.2 mm wide, up to 12 inches long and mostly shorter than the flowering stems. Stem leaf sheaths tightly wrap the stem, the front white translucent, straight to slightly concave across the top, and the tip of the sheath extending above the leaf base. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is about as long as or longer than wide. Leaves are hairless but rough along the edges, flat but V-shaped in cross-section when young, and mostly erect.

[photo of scaly rhizomes] Bases are wrapped in a brown to blackish sheath that eventually becomes fibrous. Stems are slender, 3-sided, sharply angled and rough textured on the upper stem but smooth and more rounded below, erect, elongating up to about 3 feet at maturity, and mostly single from the base. Plants form loose to dense colonies from scaly, light brown rhizomes, the stems often arising at regular intervals and in straight lines.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[close-up of mature spikes] Fruit develops in mid to late spring through early summer, the pistillate spikes forming clusters of seeds (achenes), each wrapped in a casing (perigynium), subtended by a scale. Spikes usually contain 3 to 12 fruits that are mostly ascending and overlapping on the stalk.

[photo of perigynia, scale and achene] Pistillate scales are lance to egg-shaped, light reddish-brown with whitish edging and a green midrib drying to light brown, tapering to a pointed tip, about as long as or shorter than the perigynia. Perigynia are 3.9 to 6.5 mm long, 1.4 to 2.4 mm wide, green turning brown at maturity, convex and usually distinctly veined on the front, flattened and veined or veinless on the back, hairless but with minute serrations along the edges on the tip half, not spongy, the body lance to egg-shaped, rounded at the base, the tip tapered to a beak 1 to 2.7 mm long with 2 distinct teeth at the tip. Achenes are 1.9 to 2.2 mm long, 1.2 to 1.5 mm wide, brown to golden, flattened lens-shaped.


Carex siccata, formerly known as Carex foenea (a name now used for a completely different species!), is a common sedge of open, dry, sandy or rocky soils and is present in about 2/3 of Minnesota, mostly from the Metro area north, less commonly in the southeast counties. Some references note 2 varieties that are not currently recognized in Minnesota: var. enervis with veinless perigynia, and var. tuburculata with minute bumps on the perigynia surface. C. siccata is more commonly thought to be a single, somewhat variable species.

Carex is a large genus, with over 600 species in North America and 150+ in Minnesota alone. They are grouped into sections, the species in each group having common traits. Carex siccata is the lone member of the Ammoglochin section in Minnesota; some of its common traits are: not clump-forming, long-rhizomatous, basal sheaths brown to black and becoming fibrous, leaves hairless and V-shaped in cross-section when young, spikes mostly with staminate flowers at the tip (androgynous), lateral spikes androgynous or unisex, perigynia flattened in cross-section, veined on both sides, winged along the edges, rounded at the base, beaked with 2 teeth at the tip, flattened lens-shaped achenes.

Carex siccata is distinguished from other sedges by the combination of: not clump-forming, colony forming from scaly, light brown rhizomes, often growing in lines, widest leaves 3.2mm wide or less, stem leaf sheaths not veined on the front, 3 to 8 spikes congested at the tip of the stem, spikes with staminate flowers at the tip (androgynous) or unisex, perigynia 4 to 6.5mm long, nerved on one or both sides (best seen when dry). Other species with a somewhat similar inflorescence are Carex sartwellii and members of the Divisae section, all of which are also rhizomatous, but are found in wet habitats. Members of the Heleoglochin section also have similar inflorescences, but are densely clump-forming and and also found in wet habitats.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Dakota, Kittson and Ramsey counties.


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