Carex gracillima (Graceful Sedge)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Cyperaceae (Sedge)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade;
Fruiting season:June - July
Plant height:8 to 36 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACW MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
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: Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowering spikes] Separate staminate (male) and pistillate (female) spikes, with a single staminate spike up to 2½ inches long at the top of the stem, which almost always has a few to several pistillate flowers at the very tip (gynecandrous). Below the staminate spike are 2 to 5 slender-stalked, all-pistillate spikes, widely spaced and arising singly from the nodes with a leaf-like bract at the base of the stalk. The stalk of the lowest spike is longest with the stalks becoming progressively shorter as they ascend the stem, the stalks initially erect to ascending, becoming drooping with maturity. Pistillate spikes are slender and cylindrical, up to about 2¾ inches long, erect and green at flowering time with white, thread-like styles, and the staminate spike with creamy yellow stamens.

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

[photo of sheath and ligule] Leaves are basal and alternate, mostly near the base, 3 to 10 mm wide, shorter than the flowering stems, becoming arching. Stem leaf sheaths loosely wrap the stem and are papery, translucent whitish. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is longer than wide. Leaves are M-shaped in cross-section when young, and hairless though slightly rough along the edges.

[photo of basal sheaths] Bases are wrapped in a sheath that is not fibrous and is typically tinged red to purple. Stems are slender, 3-sided and mostly smooth except slightly rough in the upper plant. Stems become leaning to arching, elongating up to 3 feet at maturity and are much longer than the leaves. Not all plants produce flowering stems. Plants form loose to dense clumps.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature pistillate spike] Fruit develops in late spring through mid-summer, the pistillate spikes forming clusters of seeds (achenes), each wrapped in a casing (perigynium), subtended by a scale. The empty staminate scales persist after fruit has dropped off. Pistillate spikes each contain 10 to 45 fruits that are often tightly arranged on the stalk.

[photo of perigynia, scale and achene] Pistillate scales are lance-oblong to egg-shaped, translucent white with a green midrib that turns brown, rounded to pointed at the tip or the midrib extending to an awn less than 1 mm long, may be hairy or rough around the edges, and are shorter than the perigynia. Perigynia are green, 2 to 3.7 mm long, 1.3 to 1.6 mm wide, 2-ribbed with 8 to 12 faint veins, hairless, loosely wrapping the achene, oval-elliptic, rounded to pointed at the tip and essentially beakless, tapering to the stalkless base. Achenes are 1.2 to 2.6 mm long, up to 1.2 mm wide, 3-sided in cross-section, and mature to brown.


Carex gracillima is found in woodlands and forests throughout Minnesota, and is one of the most common woodland sedges in the state.

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 gracillima is in the Hymenochlaenae section; some of its common traits are: typically clump forming and forming loose colonies, leaves M-shaped in cross-section when young, spikes long and cylindric and drooping on slender stalks, terminal spike either all staminate or with a few perigynia (usually at the tip, occasionally the base), perigynia round in cross-section, 2-veined, beaked, the beak usually toothed, 3-sided achenes, often growing in woodlands.

Carex gracillima is very similar in appearance to two other hairless Minnesota sedges: Carex debilis and Carex arctata, both of which have perigynia with long taper to an obvious beak where C. gracillima is essentially beakless. C. gracillima has been reported to hybridize with other members of its section, though these are not documented in Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Other photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Steven Weston - Eagan
on: 2020-09-08 23:52:33

One of about 10 species of Carex in my yard.

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