Carex plantaginea (Plantain-leaved Sedge)

Plant Info
Also known as: Seersucker Sedge
Genus:Carex
Family:Cyperaceae (Sedge)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Status:
  • State Endangered
Habitat:part shade, shade; moist; rich deciduous woods, wooded slopes, ravines
Fruiting season:May - June
Plant height:10 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

Flower: Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowering spikes] Separate staminate (male) and pistillate (female) spikes, with a single staminate spike up to about ¾ inch long at the top of the stem. Below the staminate spike are 2 to 4 widely spaced, cylindric, all-pistillate spikes each up to 1 inch long on a short, erect stalk, the lowest spike usually near the base.

[photo of bract with sheath] Pistillate spikes each have a bract at the base of the stalk that is bladeless or a blade less than 1 inch long. The bract sheath is very long and often tinged red.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are all basal, 5 to 18 inches long, 8 to 30+ mm (1/3 to 1¼+ inches) wide, erect to ascending becoming arching, and shorter than the flowering stem. Leaves are hairless, bright green and M-shaped in cross-section when young with a prominent midrib and 2 conspicuous lateral veins, cross-wrinkled between the lateral veins (reminiscent of seersucker). New leaves emerge when the flowering stems mature, continue growing through summer and overwinter, some of which persist evergreen to the next season then wither away.

[photo of basal sheaths] Bases are wrapped in a red-purple sheath that is not fibrous. Stems are 3-sided, smooth or nearly so, erect to ascending becoming sprawling, and may elongate up to 24 inches at maturity. Not all plants produce flowering stems. Plants form dense clumps.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of maturing spike] Fruit develops in mid to late spring, the pistillate spikes forming clusters of seeds (achenes), each wrapped in a casing (perigynium), subtended by a scale. Staminate scales are purplish with a prominent green midrib and mostly rounded at the tip. Pistillate spikes have 4 to 15 fruits, the perigynia erect to ascending, overlapping but often loosely arranged on the spike.

[photo of perigynia, scale and achene] Pistillate scales are lance to egg-shaped, whitish turning light brown, sometimes with purplish edging, has a green midrib tapering to a pointed tip, and are ¾ to nearly as long as the perigynia. Perigynia are green at maturity, 3.7 to 5 mm long, 1.6 to 2 mm wide, many-veined, hairless, not much inflated, strongly 3-sided, elliptic tapering at both ends, slightly bent at the tip with a short, toothless beak. Achenes are 2.2 to 2.7 mm long, strongly 3-sided in cross-section with flat to slightly concave sides, oval in outline, yellowish-brown at maturity.

Notes:

Carex plantaginea is a sedge of rich deciduous woods, wooded slopes and ravines, and reaches the western fringe of its range in Minnesota. According to the DNR, it is one of the rarest sedges in the state and was listed as a State Endangered species in 1996. Its rich, woodland habitat is under constant pressures from various commercial, agricultural and recreational activities, but also from invasive species, especially garlic mustard and buckthorn as well as earthworms, which destroy the rich organic layer.

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 plantaginea is in the Careyanae section; some of its common traits are: clump forming, short rhizomatous, basal sheaths brown or red-purple and not fibrous, leaves M-shaped in cross-section when young, leaves hairless and often over 1 cm (~3/8 inch) wide, 2 to 6 spikes, terminal spike all staminate, lateral spikes all pistillate, lateral spikes subtended by a long-sheathing leaf-like (sometimes bladeless) bract, the lowest spike often at or near the base, perigynia hairless, oval-elliptic to egg-shaped with a toothless beak, distinctly many veined, achenes strongly 3-sided with 3 stigmas, usually growing in woodlands. Members of Careyanae were formerly in Laxiflorae, which is distinguished by perigynia that are round to weakly 3-sided in cross-section, and no pistillate spikes at or near the base.

Carex plantaginea is not likely to be confused with any other Carex species in Minnesota, separated from all others by the combination of: densely clump-forming, broad leaves (10 to 30+mm wide) M-shaped in cross-section with distinct cross-wrinkles between the lateral veins, strongly red-purple at the base, and long-sheathing bracts that are red-tinged and have little or no blade.

The broad leaves, with new leaves emerging after the flowering stem elongates then persisting evergreen through winter, combined with the strongly purple base, and many-veined perigynia that are strongly 3-sided, are traits shared only with Carex careyana, which is distinguished by its bracts with leafy blades and larger perigynia (to 6.5mm long). Carex albursina also has broad leaves and is found in the same habitat, but has white basal sheaths and perigynia round in cross-section. Carex laxiculmis, the third member of Careyanae in Minnesota, has brown basal sheaths and narrower leaves, mostly less than 1cm wide, and pistillate spikes often have 1 or 2 staminate flowers at the base.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in Winona County and in private gardens in Ramsey and Washington counties.

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