Carex tenuiflora (Sparse-flowered Sedge)
|Also known as:||Thin-flowered Sedge|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; wet; calcareous fens, coniferous swamps, bogs, wet woods, floating mats, shores|
|Fruiting season:||June - July|
|Plant height:||4 to 20 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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2 to 4 stalkless spikes, all close to each other at the tip of the stem. At the base of the lowest spike is sometimes a narrow, leaf-like bract that may over-top the terminal spike, but the bract is often absent or bristle-like and shorter than the attending spike. All spikes have a few staminate (male) flowers at the base, 3 to 15 pistillate (female) flowers at the tip (gynecandrous) and are up to 15mm (about ½ inch) long.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are basal and alternate, mostly near the base, .5 to 2 mm wide, 2 to 6 inches long, shorter than the flowering stems, mostly erect to ascending. Stem leaf sheaths are translucent whitish, concave at the tip. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is about as long as wide. Leaves are hairless, flat or channeled, V-shaped in cross-section when young.
Bases are wrapped in a brown sheath that is not fibrous. Stems are slender, weak, 3-sided and slightly rough textured. Stems are initially erect often become leaning to nearly prostrate, elongating up to about 20 inches at maturity and are much longer than the leaves. Not all plants produce flowering stems. Plants form loose to dense clumps from slender rhizomes.
Fruit develops in late spring through early summer, the pistillate spikes forming clusters of seeds (achenes), each wrapped in a casing (perigynium), subtended by a scale. The empty scales persist after fruit has dropped off. Pistillate spikes each contain 5 to 15 fruits that are ascending to spreading and somewhat crowded in an oval to hemispheric cluster.
Carex tenuiflora is a circumpolar species, found primarily in northern Minnesota in mossy bogs, conifer swamps, peatlands and on floating mats, but may also be found in pools along the rocky north shore of Lake Superior.
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 tenuiflora is in the Glareosae section; some of its common traits are: typically clump forming, leaves V-shaped in cross-section when young, leaves hairless and 4mm or less wide, 2 to 10 stalkless spikes, spikes all essentially alike with staminate flowers at the base (gynecandrous), perigynia ascending to spreading and flattened in cross-section, beaked, the beak usually toothed, flattened lens-shaped achenes, typically growing in wetlands.
Carex tenuiflora is not easily confused with other sedges; it is distinguished by the combination of: 2 to 4 spikes that are closely clustered at the top of the stem, spikes oval to hemispheric with a few staminate flowers at the base (gynecandrous) and 5 to 15 perigynia, pistillate scales nearly covering the perigynia and translucent white except the midrib, perigynia to 3.8mm long, tapering to an obscure beak and densely covered in minute white dots (magnification required). C. tenuiflora superficially resembles Carex leptalea, which has a single spike with staminate flowers at the tip (androgynous). Of note is that most references state the veins on C. tenuiflora perigynia are obscure, but we disagree: though the veins are not raised, when green the veins are faint but when mature, the coloring makes them really stand out.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Carex tenuiflora plant
- Carex tenuiflora on Lake Superior's north shore
- Carex tenuiflora in a mossy bog
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Cook County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Cook and Lake counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?