Carex novae-angliae (New England Sedge)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Cyperaceae (Sedge)
Life cycle:perennial
  • State Threatened
Habitat:part shade, shade; average to moist soil; hardwood and mixed forest
Fruiting season:June - July
Plant height:2 to 16 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: none MW: none 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: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: spike

[photo of spikes] Separate staminate (male) and pistillate (female) spikes, with a single staminate spike up to about ½ inch long at the tip of the stem. Below the staminate spike are 1 to 3 pistillate spikes, each up to about 3/8 inch (1cm) long, the uppermost stalkless and close to the staminate spike and the lower short-stalked and more widely separated from each other, but never near the base of the stem. At the base of lowest spike is a leaf-like bract that is much longer than the spike and may overtop the terminal spike but usually not. Bracts become smaller as they ascend the stem, the upper more scale-like with a bristly awn.

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

[photo of leaf sheath and ligule] Leaves are basal and alternate, mostly near the base, .7 to 1.5 mm wide, as long as or longer than the flowering stem, mostly floppy. Stem leaf sheaths are U-shaped and translucent whitish-green. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is about as long as wide. Leaves are hairless though may be slightly rough and are usually light green.

[photo of basal sheaths] Bases are wrapped in a red to red-brown sheath that is little fibrous if at all. Stems are erect to arching to flopping, slender, 3-sided, and mostly smooth except slightly rough on the upper stem. Stems may elongate up to 16 inches at maturity. Plants form loose clumps from short rhizomes and may form mats.

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. Each pistillate spike contains 2 to 10 fruits, the perigynia ascending, overlapping but not crowded on the spike.

[photo of perigynia, scale and achene] Pistillate scales are 2 to 2.5 mm long, lance to egg-shaped, pale brown to reddish-brown, tapering or abruptly narrowed to a pointed tip, and are as long as or slightly shorter than the perigynia. Perigynia are 2.2 to 2.8 mm long, .8 to 1 mm wide, fuzzy hairy on the upper half, veinless, pale green to whitish and nearly transparent at maturity, the body elliptic and longer than wide, the white base initially spongy but shriveling to a stalk-like structure (stipe), and abruptly tapering at the tip to a straight to slightly bent beak that has 2 small teeth at the tip. Achenes are 1.4 to 1.7 mm long, .7 to .9 mm wide, urn-shaped in outline, 3-sided in cross-section, and mature to dark brown


Carex novae-angliae is a rare sedge in Minnesota, reaching the western edge of its range in the Arrowhead region of the state. According to the DNR, it was first discovered in Lake County in 2001. Since then, extensive biological surveys have only located 28 small populations. It's preferred habitat is moist upland forests and the transitional zone between upland forest and wetlands. The populations in Minnesota are small and the sites are at risk from land management uses, particularly logging, and from invasive species. It was listed as a MN Threatened species in 2013 and is currently a Special Concern species in Wisconsin.

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 novae-angliae is in the Acrocystis section (formerly Montanae); some of its common traits are: mostly dry habitat, hairless leaves, basal sheaths typically fibrous, small spikes often tightly clustered, terminal spike staminate, perigynia typically hairy, perigynia with 2 small teeth at the tip of the beak, achenes 3-sided to round in cross-section.

Carex novae-angliae is a fairly distinct species with fine foliage and hairy, whitish perigynia less than 3mm long that are nearly transparent when mature. It is distinguished from other members of Acrocystis by the combination of: leaves very fine, floppy, light green and as long as or longer than the flowering stem, widest leaves 1.5 mm, 1 to 3 pistillate spikes, the lowest bract sometimes overtopping the terminal spike, pistillate scales as long as or shorter than the perigynia, scales pointed at the tip but not usually awned, perigynia less than 3mm long, hairy, pale green to whitish and nearly transparent when mature, the white perigynia base initially spongy but shriveling to a stalk-like base. The most similar species, Carex communis and Carex peckii, have perigynia mostly more than 3mm long and leaves shorter than the flowering stem. The slender leaves in loose clumps of Carex novae-angliae are apt to be mixed in other vegetation and easily overlooked, which may be one reason why it was not discovered until 2001.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Lake County.


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