Carex livida (Livid Sedge)

Plant Info
Also known as: Pale Sedge, Lead-colored Sedge
Family:Cyperaceae (Sedge)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; wet; fens, floating mats, peat bogs
Fruiting season:June - July
Plant height:6 to 16 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
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 ¼ to ¾ inch long at the tip of the stem. Below the staminate spike are 1 or 2 (rarely 3) erect, short-stalked pistillate spikes, ¼ to 1 inch long, near each other but not crowded; the third spike, when present, may be far below the others. At the base of the lowest pistillate stalk is an erect, leaf-like bract that may or may not overtop the terminal spike and has a sheath at least 4 mm long; the bracts on any upper spikes are much shorter with shorter sheaths.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are few, alternate all near the base, leathery, blue-green with a waxy coating (glaucous), erect to ascending, 1 to 3 mm wide, channeled or the edges rolled in (involute), and shorter than the flowering stem. Stem leaf sheaths are fragile, translucent white. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is .5 to 1.5 times as long as wide and blunt to pointed at the tip.

[photo of basal sheath] Bases are wrapped in a brown, occasionally red-tinged sheath that is not fibrous. Stems are single, slender, mostly erect, 3-sided, smooth except near the spikes, elongating up to 16 inches at maturity and longer than the leaves. Plants form colonies from long rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[close-up of mature spike] Fruit develops in late spring to early summer, the pistillate spikes forming clusters of seeds (achenes), each wrapped in a casing (perigynium), subtended by a scale. Pistillate spikes each contain 3 to 15 fruits that are ascending and overlapping on the stalk but not tightly packed.

[photo of perigynia, scale and achene] Pistillate scales are oval to egg-shaped, blunt to pointed at the tip, light brown to dark chestnut or purplish-brown with a broad green midrib, and about as wide as the perigynia and half to nearly as long. Perigynia are 3 to 4.8 mm long, 1.3 to 2 mm wide, obscurely veined, hairless, pale blue-green with a waxy coating (glaucous), densely covered in minute bumps giving a grainy texture, loosely wrapping the achene, nearly round in cross-section, the body egg-shaped to somewhat spindle-shaped, with or without a minute beak at the tip. Achenes are 2.1 to 2.5 mm long, 3-sided in cross-section, pale to dark brown at maturity.


Carex livida is sedge of boreal fens, calcareous floating mats, peat bogs and marly meadows, with a circumpolar distribution but is uncommon or rare throughout most of its range.

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 livida is in the Paniceae section; some of its common traits are: clump forming or not, rhizomatous, hairless leaves, basal sheaths brown or red-purple, sheaths sometimes fibrous, 2 to 4 spikes, terminal spike all-staminate, lateral spikes all-pistillate and stalked, leaf-like bract subtending the lowest pistillate spike with a sheath more than 4 mm long, perigynia ascending to spreading, hairless, weakly 3-sided to round in cross-section, beaked or not, at least slightly inflated, achenes 3-sided in cross-section.

Carex livida is distinguished from all other Minnesota sedges by the combination of: not clump-forming or only loosely so; slender, light blue-green foliage that is typically channeled; a single terminal staminate spike; (usually) 1 or 2 erect, short-stalked pistillate spikes each containing 3 to 15 fruits; perigynia up to 4.8 mm long, light blue-green with a grainy texture, egg to spindle-shaped, inflated, minutely beaked or beakless; achenes 3-sided. The pale blue-green perigynia contrasted by darker scales is similar to Carex limosa, with which it may grow side-by-side, but it has more widely spaced lateral spikes on slender, longer, nodding stalks, perigynia are proportionately broader and slightly flattened, and basal sheaths are more consistently red-purple.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Beltrami and Lake counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Lake County.


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