Sedge family (Cyperaceae)
Description: This native perennial sedge is about 1½2½' tall. Both fertile and infertile shoots produce low rosettes of leaves and culms with alternate leaves; the stems of fertile shoots terminate in an inflorescence. The culms are pale green to green and 3-angled. The blades of the alternate leaves are up to 14" long and 1/3" across; they are light green, glabrous, and indented in the middle. Typically, the leaf blades spread upward and outward from the culm or the center of a rosette, and then gradually curve downward toward their tips. The leaf sheaths are light green and glabrous.
The inflorescence of each fertile shoot consists of a short stalk of 5-14 spikelets up to 2" in length. At the base of this stalk, there is usually a slender bract that is narrowly linear and up to 2/3" long; there may be one or more smaller bracts that are partially hidden by the spikelets. The spikelets are densely distributed along each stalk. Each spikelet is up to 1/3" across, light green, globoid, and prickly in appearance because of the beaks of the perigynia. The staminate flowers, if present, are located at the bottom of the spikelet underneath the pistillate flowers and their perigynia. In each spikelet, the perigynia are densely packed together and widely spreading. Each perigynium is about 3.04.5 mm. long and 1.5 mm. across, flattened, and ovate-lanceolate in overall shape; there is a long narrow beak at its apex, while the wedge-shaped bottom often tapers to a short broad beak that is truncate. There are several fine veins on the inner and outer surfaces of each perigynium, and its margins are slightly winged. Underneath each perigynium, there is a pistillate scale that is lanceolate in shape and up to two-thirds as long as the perigynium. Each scale is green in the center and translucent along its margins; it later becomes pale to medium brown. The blooming period occurs from late spring to early summer. Pollination is by wind. With maturity, the perigynia of the spikelets become brown during mid-summer and eventually fall to the ground. Each mature perigynium contains a single achene that is oblongoid-ovoid, rather flattened, and about 1.0-1.5 mm. in length. The root system produces white fibrous roots and short rhizomes. This sedge spreads by forming vegetative clumps of plants that develop from the rhizomes and by reseeding itself.
Cultivation: The preference is full sun to light shade, wet to moist conditions, and a fertile loamy soil with abundant organic material. Most vegetative growth occurs during the spring and early summer.
Range & Habitat: Crested Sedge is occasional in most areas of Illinois; in the SE area of the state, it is less common than elsewhere. Habitats include openings in moist woodlands, swamps, soggy thickets, wet prairies, sedge meadows, sloughs, low-lying areas along rivers, powerline clearances in woodlands, and ditches. This sedge occurs in both degraded and higher quality habitats.
Faunal Associations: The caterpillars of various butterflies, skippers, and moths feed on Carex spp. (see the Lepidoptera Table for a listing of these species). Other insects that prefer Carex spp. as a food source include Stethophyma lineata (Striped Sedge Grasshopper) Stethophyma celata (Otte's Sedge Grasshopper), and various leafhoppers, particularly Cosmotettix spp. The seeds of Carex spp. are an important source of food to various upland gamebirds, songbirds, and waterfowl (see Bird Table). Generally, the foliage and spikelets are sparingly consumed by mammalian herbivores, although there is some evidence that the Grey Squirrel and Fox Squirrel eat the seeds, while voles eat the foliage and/or rootstocks. Fossilized dung in caves in the western United States indicate that the Imperial Mammoth visited wetlands to eat the foliage of Carex spp. and other kinds of grassy vegetation.
Photographic Location: A powerline clearance in Busey Woods, Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: This robust sedge has foliage that is quite similar to other Carex spp. (Sedges). However, its spikelets are quite distinctive because of their globoid shape and prickly appearance. Whether they are immature and green, or mature and brown, the spikelets of Crested Sedge are attractive; the mature perigynia remain on their stalks longer than those of most Carex spp., or so it seems to me. Similar Carex spp. usually have spikelets that are more ovoid (longer than they are broad) and/or their spikelets are more distant from each other on the flowering stalk. One species that Crested Sedge can be confused with is Carex molesta (Troublesome Sedge). However, the latter species has only 2-5 spikelets per flowering stalk and its perigynia are more rounded at the bottom.