Sedge family (Cyperaceae)
Description: This perennial sedge produces non-flowering tufts of leaves and flowering culms about ¾–2' tall. The narrow culms are unbranched, hairless, and round to 3-angled in cross-section. There are up to 5 alternate leaves along each culm. The linear leaves are up to 1/3" across and 12" long. They are light green to blue-green, hairless, slightly rough (scabrous) along the margins, and occasionally slightly glaucous. Each culm produces 1-2 axillary spikelets of pistillate flowers, 1-2 terminal spikelets of pistillate flowers, and a single terminal spikelet of staminate flowers. The staminate spikelet is nearly sessile to short-stalked and up to 1½" long. It becomes brown and shriveled-looking shortly after releasing its pollen. The pistillate spikelets are up to 1¼" long, about 1/5" across, and short-cylindrical in shape. They have a grainy appearance because of the densely crowded perigynia of the pistillate flowers. Each perigynium is about 3 mm. long and 2 mm. across; it is broadly ovoid to slightly obovoid and hairless, tapering to a short beak. Several longitudinal veins run along its sides that are usually conspicuous. The color of each perigynium varies from light green to yellowish brown, depending on its maturity; sometimes it has fine red speckles. Underneath each peryigynium is a short pistillate scale that abruptly tapers to a short narrow tip; this scale is usually shorter than the perigynium and inconspicuous. The axillary pistillate spikelets are short- to long-stalked, while the terminal pistillate spikelets are sessile to short-stalked. Underneath each terminal spikelet of pistillate flowers, there is a slender leafy bract that is longer than the spikelet. The blooming period occurs during the late spring to early summer and lasts about 1-2 weeks. Pollination occurs by agency of the wind. Afterwards, the pistillate spikelets persist for about a month as their achenes develop. These achenes are about 1.8 mm. in length, obovoid in shape, and 3-angled. The root system consists of short rhizomes and coarse fibrous roots. Tight tufts of leaves are often formed from the short rhizomes.
Cultivation: The preference is full to partial sun, wet to mesic conditions, and a loam or clay-loam soil. This species also tolerates rocky or gravelly soil that is somewhat alkaline.
Range & Habitat: Meadow Sedge is occasional to locally common in most areas of Illinois; it tends to be less common or absent in the southern and western areas of the state (see Distribution Map). Habitats include openings in woodlands, swamps, riverbottom prairies, moist dolomite prairies, weedy meadows, fens and seeps, moist depressions in limestone cliffs, and abandoned fields. This species occurs in both disturbed areas and higher quality habitats.
Faunal Associations: The caterpillars of various butterflies, skippers, and moths feed on Carex spp. (primarily the foliage). See the Lepidoptera Table for a listing of these species. Other insects feeding on Carex spp. include Stethophyma lineata (Striped Sedge Grasshopper), Stethophyma celata (Otte's Sedge Grasshopper), and various leafhoppers: Cosmotettix lineatus, Cosmotettix luteocephalus, Cosmotettix bierni, and Elymana inornata. The seeds of Carex spp. are a significant source of food for upland gamebirds, waterfowl, and songbirds (see the Bird Table for a listing of these species). The foliage of Carex spp. is not preferred as a source of food by deer and rabbits, although livestock will eat it.
Photographic Location: A moist weedy meadow along a drainage ditch at Judge Webber Park in Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: Meadow Sedge can be distinguished from other Carex spp. (Sedges) by the grainy appearance of its pistillate spikelets, the presence of both axillary and terminal pistillate spikelets, and the presence of a single staminate spikelet on a short terminal stalk. Other sedges with a similar appearance tend to have pistillate scales that are longer and more conspicuous.