Carex hitchcockiana (Hitchcock's Sedge)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Cyperaceae (Sedge)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; rocky or loamy soil; rich woods, floodplain forest, wooded bluffs, wooded rocky slopes
Fruiting season:June - August
Plant height:6 to 24 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
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 spikes] Separate staminate (male) and pistillate (female) spikes, with a single staminate spike up to about 1 1/3 inch long at the top of the stem. Below the staminate spike are 2 to 4 few-flowered, all-pistillate spikes, usually widely separated, though the uppermost 1 or 2 pistillate spikes may crowd the staminate spike. Lower pistillate spikes are longer stalked than upper spikes, the stalks smooth and mostly erect. Pistillate spikes each have a leaf-like bract at the base of the stalk that loosely sheaths the stem, the bracts usually greatly over-topping the terminal spike.

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

[photo of ligule and hairy sheath] Leaves are basal and alternate, the widest 3 to 7 mm wide, erect to floppy, shorter or longer than the flowering stem. Stem leaf sheaths loosely wrap the stem, are whitish and densely short-hairy. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is longer than wide. Leaves are mostly hairless, sometimes sparsely hairy along the midvein, M-shaped in cross-section when young.

[photo of plant base] Bases are wrapped in a brown sheath that is not fibrous. Stems are slender, 3-sided, hairless, smooth to slightly rough, erect to spreading, and may elongate up to 24 inches at maturity. Not all plants produce flowering stems. Plants form loose to dense clumps.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[close-up of spike] Fruit develops in late spring through early summer, the pistillate spikes forming clusters of seeds (achenes), each wrapped in a casing (perigynium), subtended by a scale. Pistillate spikes have 2 to 7 fruits, the perigynia ascending to erect and loosely arranged on the stalk.

[photo of perigynia, scale and achene] Pistillate scales are lance-ellliptic, whitish with a green midrib that extends to a rough-textured awn up to 6.8 mm long, the scale body more than half as long as the perigynia, with the awn often longer than the perigynia. Perigynia are green to yellowish-green, 4.5 to 6 mm long, 1.9 to 2.3 mm wide, hairless, not inflated, up to 59 impressed veins, weakly 3-sided in cross-section, somewhat spindle-shaped and widest above the middle, tapering at the base and the tip, the beak toothless and slightly angled. Achenes are 3.2 to 4 mm long, weakly 3-sided in cross-section, widest above the middle, tapering at the base and maturing to brown.


Carex hitchcockiana is an occasional sedge of deciduous woods, wooded bluffs and slopes, mostly along the Minnesota River valley, and reaches the northwestern edge of its range in Minnesota.

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 hitchcockiana is in the Griseae section; some of its common traits are: clump forming or not, short to long rhizomatous, basal sheaths not fibrous, leaves M-shaped in cross-section when young, the leaf underside with 2 lateral veins more prominent than the midvein, widest leaves 6 mm or less, 3 to 6 spikes, terminal spike all staminate, lateral spikes mostly all pistillate, sometimes with a few staminate flowers at the tip (androgynous), lateral spikes subtended by a long-sheathing leaf-like bract, pistillate scales with a rough-textured awn, perigynia oval-elliptic and hairless with impressed veins (both fresh and dry), achenes 3-sided with 3 stigmas, usually growing in woodlands or open habitats.

Carex hitchcockiana is distinguished from other Carex species by the combination of: clump forming, brown at the base, sheaths densely short-hairy, all-staminate terminal spike, 2 to 4 pistillate spikes with 2 to 7 perigynia per spike, pistillate scales with a rough-textured awn often longer than the perigynia, perigynia with up to 59 impressed veins, the beak bent and toothless.

Carex hitchcockiana most closely resembles Carex oligocarpa, which has smaller perigynia, hairless sheaths, and is red-purple at the base.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Fillmore County. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Fillmore and Renville counties.


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

Posted by: Brian - Bradshaw Woods, Le Sueur County
on: 2018-05-28 09:56:15

A good population of this sedge can be found in Bradshaw Woods, a preserve next to the fairground in Le Center, on the south side of MN 99. The best area to see them is on the west side of the preserve.

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