Carex magellanica (Poor Sedge)

Plant Info
Also known as: Bog Sedge, Boreal Bog Sedge
Family:Cyperaceae (Sedge)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; wet; bogs, fens, marshes, peatlands
Fruiting season:June - July
Plant height:6 to 32 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 and bracts] Separate staminate (male) and pistillate (female) spikes, with a single staminate spike ¼ to ¾ inch long at the tip of the stem, often with a few pistillate flowers at the tip (gynecandrous). Below the staminate spike are 2 to 4 slender-stalked pistillate spikes, often with a few staminate flowers at the base, ¼ to nearly 1 inch long, mostly near the tip of the stem but not crowded and arising singly from the nodes. At the base of the lowest pistillate stalk is a leaf-like bract that usually overtops the terminal spike, the bracts becoming smaller as they ascend the stem. Stalks are mostly longer than the associated spike and initially erect to ascending, becoming drooping.

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

[photo of stem sheath (torn at the tip) and ligule] Leaves are basal and alternate, the few stem leaves all near the base, 1 to 4 mm wide, erect to ascending, flat or the edges rolled under (revolute). Stem leaf sheaths are concave at the tip, translucent white. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is an inverted V, longer than wide.

[photo of basal sheaths, with old persistent leaves] Bases are wrapped in a scaly, shiny reddish-brown sheath, the old leaves persisting. Stems are slender, mostly erect, sharply 3-sided, smooth to rough, elongating up to 30 inches at maturity and longer than the leaves. Plants form loose clumps from short rhizomes. Roots are yellowish to orange and densely hairy.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature spikes with scales dropped off] 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. Both the empty staminate scales and the pistillate scales drop off before fruit is fully mature. Pistillate spikes each contain 5 to 25 fruits that are overlapping on the stalk but not tightly packed.

[photo of perigynia, scale and achene] Pistillate scales are narrowly lance-elliptic, with a short or long taper to a pointed tip, sometimes with an awn up to 3 mm long, brown turning dark purplish brown with a paler midrib, narrower and much longer than the perigynia. Perigynia are 2.5 to 4 mm long, 1.8 to 2.5 mm wide, obscurely veined, hairless, pale blue-green turning golden brown, loosely wrapping the achene, the body oval-elliptic and beakless or nearly so. Achenes are 2.5 to 3.5 mm long, 3-sided in cross-section, oval-elliptic.


Carex magellanica, formerly known as Carex paupercula, is a common species of bogs, conifer swamps and peatlands in the northern and central parts of Minnesota. It is a bipolar species, with subsp. magellanica restricted to cool, temperate regions of South America, and subsp. irrigua present in alpine regions and the northern latitudes of the northern hemisphere.

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 magellanica is one of two members of the Limosae section in Minnesota; some of the section's common traits are: roots with a dense covering of yellowish hairs, rhizomatous, bases red-brown or purple-brown, leaves 1 to 4 mm wide and V-shaped in cross-section when young, 2 to 5 spikes on slender stalks, terminal spike either all staminate or with a few perigynia at the tip (gynecandrous), lateral spikes either all-pistillate or with a few staminate flowers (at the tip or base), perigynia 5 to 7-veined, inflated, broadly elliptic to egg-shaped, 3-sided achenes, growing in wet habitats.

Carex magellanica is distinguished from all other Minnesota sedges by the combination of: roots with a dense covering of yellowish hairs, loosely clump-forming from short rhizomes, shiny reddish scales at the base, single terminal spike either all-staminate or gynencandrous, 2 to 4 pistillate spikes on drooping stalks often with a few staminate flowers at the base, perigynia oval-elliptic, blue-green and obscurely beaked, pistillate scales narrower and longer than the perigynia and dropping off before maturity. Carex limosa is the only other sedge in Minnesota with the yellowish, hairy roots, and is distinguished by its nearly leafless stems, shorter floral bracts, and persistent pistillate scales as large as the perigynia or nearly so and mostly completely covering it.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Lake and St Louis counties. Photos courtesy Steve Eggers taken in Isanti County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Terry S - Carleton County
on: 2017-07-11 23:19:08

I encountered a large expanse of this in a sphagnum bog in Carleton County. I wasn't aware that yellow hairs on the roots are a telltale characteristic of this species, but that's just what I observed. ts

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