Carex pedunculata (Long-stalked Sedge)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Genus:Carex
Family:Cyperaceae (Sedge)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, shade; moist to dry deciduous woods and mixed forests
Fruiting season:April - May
Plant height:3 to 10 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: FAC
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] Separate staminate (male) and pistillate (female) spikes, with a single staminate spike about 1/3 inch long at the top of the stem, which often has 1 to a few pistillate flowers at the base (androgynous). Below the staminate spike are 2 to 5 pistillate spikes, which may have a few staminate flowers at the tip, the uppermost spikes erect to ascending, on a stalk ¾ to 2½ inches long, with a loosely-wrapping, long-sheathing, bladeless bract at the base. The lower pistillate spikes arise from the basal sheaths on thread-like, flexible stalks up to 5 inches long and are usually hidden in the basal leaf clump.

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

[photo of sheath and ligule] Leaves are mostly near the base, 1.4 to 4 mm wide, new leaves initially erect to ascending and at most only a few inches long at flowering time but elongating with maturity, eventually far exceeding the stem height and becoming floppy. Stem leaf sheaths are concave, the upper translucent whitish-green and the lower deep red-purple. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is wider than long, convex to nearly straight across. Leaves are hairless, V-shaped in cross-section when young and persist through winter, evergreen but dying at the tips, and wither away the next season.

[photo of basal sheaths] Bases are wrapped in a red-purple sheath that is not fibrous and is bladeless or nearly so. Stems are slender, 3-sided, smooth to slightly rough, and of varying heights. Only 2 to 4 inches tall at flowering time, the stems can elongate up to 11 inches at maturity. Not all plants produce flowering stems. Plants form loose to dense clumps from short rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature spikes] Fruit develops in mid spring, the pistillate spikes forming clusters of seeds (achenes), each wrapped in a casing (perigynium), subtended by a scale. The scales of staminate spikes are dark purplish brown, egg-shaped with sharp tip. The empty staminate scales persist after fruit has dropped off. Pistillate spikes each contain up to 5 fruits that are erect to ascending and overlapping but not tightly crowded.

[photo of perigynia, scale and achene] Pistillate scales are somewhat shorter than the perigynia, green turning purplish, somewhat fan-shaped with a rounded tip and a green midrib extending to an awn that may greatly exceed the tip of the perigynia. Perigynia are 3.7 to 6 mm long, 1.4 to 1.7 mm wide, typically sparsely hairy at least on the body, lack veins, are strongly 3-sided with a short, bent, toothless beak, and tightly wrap the achene except for a fleshy base that is pale, cylindrical and dries to a stalk-like appendage. Achenes are about 2.5 mm long and 1.5 mm wide, elliptic, strongly 3-sided, mature to brown, and have a short, fleshy, oil-filled base.

Notes:

Carex pedunculata is a common woodland sedge and is one of the earliest blooming woodland plants in the spring, typically flowering in April, fruiting in May and the perigynia dropping off by June. It is something of a pioneer species, filling in gaps in woodland openings then giving way as competition with other species increases. It was also the first sedge to be recognized as ant-dispersed, ants feeding on the oil-filled, fleshy base (elaiosome) and leaving the seed behind.

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 pedunculata is in the Clandestinae section (formerly Digitae); some of its common traits are: flowering in early spring, growing in clumps, basal sheaths red-purple and not fibrous, hairless leaves, widest leaves 2 to 4 mm, mostly bladeless sheaths, 2 to 5 spikes, terminal spike either all staminate or with a few perigynia at the base (androgynous), lateral spikes either all pistillate or androgynous, perigynia hairy with a toothless or obscurely toothed beak, achenes 3-sided to round in cross-section. Species in this section are similar to those in the Acrocystis section, which have fibrous and leafy basal sheaths, and more distinctly toothed perigynia.

C. peduncula is a distinctive species and not likely to be confused with other sedges; it is distinguished by the combination of: clump forming, strongly red-purple bases, basal sheaths nearly bladeless, leaves evergreen and persisting to the next season, terminal spike usually androgynous, uppermost lateral spike(s) erect on a stiff stalk, several basal pistillate spikes on long, thread-like stalks, perigynia hairy, sharply 3-sided with a short, bent, toothless beak and a fleshy base that becomes stalk-like when dry. The basal spikes are mostly hidden in the leaves but apparent if you dig though the basal clump.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in her garden in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Houston and Ramsey counties.

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