Common Woodland Sedge
Sedge family (Cyperaceae)
Description: This native perennial sedge forms a loose tuft of sprawling leafy culms about 1' tall and 1½' across; both fertile and vegetative shoots are present. The unbranched culms are ½2' long, light green, glabrous, sharply triangular, and slightly winged; there are 2-3 alternate leaves along the lower half of each culm. The leaf blades of fertile shoots are up to 8" long and 8 mm. across; they are usually widely spreading and rather floppy. The leaf blades of vegetative shoots tend to be slightly more long and wide. Each leaf blade is light green, glabrous, and channeled along the middle. The inner side of each leaf sheath is membranous, while the 2 outer sides are light green, glabrous, and longitudinally veined. The sheaths adhere rather loosely to the culms. Each ligule at the junction of the sheath and blade is longer than wide, torpedo-shaped, and short-membranous. Each fertile culm terminates in an inflorescence about 6" long (excluding the leafy bracts). This inflorescence consists of a terminal staminate spikelet, 2-4 pistillate spikelets, and their bracts. The narrow staminate spikelet is 6-12 mm. long and it has a short peduncle about 3-6 mm. in length; it is initially silvery white, but later becomes brown. Each pistillate spikelet is 8-18 mm. long, 5 mm. across, and cylindrical in shape; it is packed with 10-30 perigynia and their scales. Each perigynium is 2.83.5 mm. long and about half as much across; it is obovoid, whitish green (while immature), and hairless. The apex of each perigynium has a very short curved beak, while its bottom is wedge-shaped. The pistillate scales are a little shorter than their perigynia; they are 2.23.0 mm. in length, ovate in shape, and softly awned. Each of these scales is green-veined in the center, while its broad margins are membranous. The upper 1-2 pistillate spikelets are nearly sessile, while the lower 1-2 pistillate spikelets have long slender peduncles (up to 3" long). At the base of each pistillate spikelet (or its peduncle), there is a leafy bract about 1½8" long and 1-7 mm. across; the lower bracts are larger in size than the upper bracts. The blooming period occurs during the late spring; the florets are wind-pollinated. The achenes are 2.02.5 mm. long and 1.21.5 mm. across; they are obovoid and 3-angled. The root system is fibrous and short-rhizomatous.
Cultivation: This sedge prefers partial sun to medium shade and moist to mesic conditions; it tolerates a wide range of soil types, include those containing loam, clay-loam, or rocky material. Somewhat dry locations are tolerated if there is sufficient shade. Sometimes, this sedge can be found in shaded areas of yards, where it is slightly weedy.
Range & Habitat: Common Woodland Sedge has been found in nearly every county of Illinois and it is common in most areas of the state (see Distribution Map). Habitats include upland woodlands, bottomland woodlands, woodland openings, powerline clearances in wooded areas, thickets, weedy meadows, lawns and gardens (particularly in shaded areas), and vacant lots. Common Woodland Sedge has been found in both deciduous and deciduous/coniferous woodlands (or mixed woodlands). This sedge can be found in high quality woodlands, but it is also common in degraded woodlands and various waste areas where some shade occurs.
Faunal Associations: Collectively, sedges (Carex spp.) are an important source of food to many kinds of insects, birds, and other animals. The caterpillars of the butterflies Satyrodes appalachia (Appalachian Brown) and Satyrodes eurydice (Eyed Brown) feed on their foliage. Various leafhoppers suck juices on the foliage, especially Cosmotettix spp. The stink bug Mormidea lugens has been observed to feed on the Common Woodland Sedge specifically. In woodlands, various upland gamebirds feed on the seeds of sedges. These include the Woodcock, Wild Turkey, and chicks of the Ruffed Grouse. Granivorous songbirds eat the seeds occasionally, including various sparrows, towhees, cardinals, and others. The Gray Squirrel and Fox Squirrel also eat the seeds, while the Common Mole feeds on the roots of sedges to a limited extent.
Photographic Location: The webmaster's wildflower garden in Urbana, Illinois, where this sedge spontaneously introduced itself.
Comments: In open areas, this common sedge forms tufts of pale green leafy stems that have to a tendency to sprawl across the ground; it is often somewhat weedy in both appearance and behavior. Where there is significant competition from adjacent ground vegetation, however, it can assume a more ascending habit and dignified appearance. Common Woodland Sedge resembles several other woodland sedges to a greater or lesser degree (e.g., Carex laxiflora, Carex striatula, & Carex gracilescens). It can be distinguished by its staminate spikelets on short peduncles (6 mm. or less) and obovoid perigynia with very short curved beaks. The other sedges tend to have ellipsoid to ovoid perigynia with beaks that are longer and more straight. The species Carex striatula and Carex gracilescens have terminal staminate spikelets on long peduncles (12 mm. or more), while Carex laxiflora has wider leaf blades (up to 2 cm. across). Like the Common Woodland Sedge, all of these species have rather large leafy bracts underneath their pistillate spikelets.