Carex praticola (Northern Meadow Sedge)

Plant Info
Also known as: Prairie-dweller Sedge
Family:Cyperaceae (Sedge)
Life cycle:perennial
  • State Special Concern
Habitat:part shade, sun; sandy or rocky soil; cliffs, talus slopes, prairies, meadows, open woods
Fruiting season:June - July
Plant height:1 to 3 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC 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 spikes] 4 to 7 spikes each 6 to 18 mm (to ~¾ inch) long, overlapping or loosely arranged at the tip of the stem, sometimes more tightly crowded, the inflorescence (group of spikes) nodding, bent or arching and 1 to 2 inches long. All spikes are stalkless, erect to ascending, rounded to pointed at the tip and tapering at the base, club-shaped to elliptic in outline, with staminate (male) flowers at the base and pistillate (female) flowers at the tip (gynecandrous). At the base of the lowest spike is a scale-like bract that has a bristle-like tip and is not usually longer than the spike.

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

[photo of sheath and ligule] Leaves are alternate with 2 to 4 leaves on the lower stem, up to 12 inches long, 2 to 3(4) mm wide, mostly flat, hairless, rough-textured near the tip, shorter than the flowering stems. Stem leaf sheaths tightly wrap the stem and are translucent whitish on the front, sometimes tinged brown; the membranous tip extends slightly above the leaf base and is U-shaped across the top edge. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is as long as or slightly longer than wide. Bases are wrapped in a brown sheath, with old leaves often persisting to the next season. Stems are hairless, erect to ascending, 3-sided in cross-section, mostly smooth except just below the spikes. Stems may elongate to about 3 feet at maturity and are longer than the leaves. Plants are clump forming from a mix of vegetative and flowering stems.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[close-up of mature spike] Fruit develops in late spring to mid summer, the spikes forming clusters of seeds (achenes), each wrapped in a casing (perigynium), subtended by a scale. Perigynia are erect to ascending and packed fairly tightly on the spike. Each spike contains 6 to 20 fruits.

[photo of perigynia, scale and achene] Pistillate scales are lance-shaped, translucent brown-tinged with whitish edging and a green or pale midrib drying to brown, blunt or pointed at the tip, about as long and wide as the perigynia, mostly covering it. Perigynia are 4.5 to 6.5 mm long, 1.5 to 2 mm wide, green to gold to coppery-brown at maturity, hairless, 4 to 11-veined on the front, veinless on the back, flattened, not inflated, the body lance-elliptic, tapering at the base, tapering to the beak, and has a wing .2 to .4 mm wide around the edges that does not extend to the base; the beak is toothed along the edges except at the tip, which is translucent whitish and tubular, not flat. Achenes are lens-shaped, brown at maturity, 1.4 to 2.1 mm long, 1 to 1.5 mm wide, narrowly egg-shaped to oblong, longer than wide; the distance from the tip of the achene to the tip of the beak is 1.9 to 3 mm.


Carex praticola is rare in Minnesota. In much of its North American range it may be found in the sandy or rocky soils of prairies, meadows and open woods, but in the Great Lakes area where it is uncommon or rare, it seems to prefer cliffs, talus slopes and rock outcrops. According to the DNR, only a handful of populations have been found, nearly all of which are in the Rove Slate Bedrock Complex Landtype Association of northern Cook County. It was originally listed as Threatened in 1984 but reclassified as Special Concern in 1996.

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 praticola is a member of the Ovales section, a notoriously difficult group. Some common traits are: usually clump forming, basal sheaths brown and somewhat fibrous, leaves V-shaped when young; 2 to 20 stalkless spikes all at the stem tip and crowded or not, spikes usually all pistillate at the tip and staminate at the base (gynecandrous), lowest bracts scale-like usually with a bristle tip, pistillate scales blunt to pointed at the tip and sometimes awned; perigynia erect to spreading, hairless, veinless to conspicuously veined on one or both surfaces, flat, beaked, usually with a translucent, papery wing; achenes lens-shaped.

Some traits to look at in Ovales are whether spikes are all crowded at the tip or more loosely arranged, whether the inflorescence is nodding or mostly erect, the shape of the spike (round vs. elliptic vs. club-shaped), the size and shape of the perigynia particularly the body (e.g. round vs. elliptic), the width of the wing and whether it extends all the way to the base, whether there are distinct veins on one or both sides of the perigynia, the length of the pistillate scale relative to the perigynia, the shape of the achene, leaf width, and whether sheaths are papillose, but strong magnification (30x or more) is required to see this. Habitat can also be a factor, and a metric scale is essential since fractions of millimeters make a difference.

Carex praticola is distinguished from other Minnesota Ovales species by widest leaves usually less than 3 mm; 2 to 7 spikes at the stem tip in a nodding, bent or arching inflorescence (rarely straight) 1 to 2 inches long; spikes elliptic to club-shaped, tapered at the base, perigynia erect to ascending; pistillate scales about as long and wide as the perigynia; perigynia 4.5 to 6.5 mm long, the body lance-elliptic, 4 to 11-veined on the front, veinless on the back, a wing .2 to .4 mm wide that does not extend to the base, the tip of the beak tubular, translucent whitish, and lacks teeth along the edge. The distance from the tip of the achene to the tip of the beak is 1.7 to 2.5 mm. The pistillate scales as long as the perigynia and the tubular beak are key to an ID.

The pistillate scales as long as the perigynia is a trait shared with other Minnesota Ovales sedges, notably C. adusta, C. foenea, C. xerantica and C. tenera, none of which have a tubular, whitish beak on the perigynia. Of these, C. foenea and C. tenera also have a nodding, bent or arching inflorescence, but perigynia are shorter and broader on both. The nodding inflorescence is a trait shared with some other Ovales sedges as well, but the pistillate scales on those will be consistently shorter than the perigynia.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and John Thayer taken in Cook County.


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