Soft Fox Sedge
Sedge family (Cyperaceae)
Description: This native perennial plant has tufts of arching leaves and flowering culms up to 3' long. Infertile shoots are bunched together and produce a rosette-like growth of leaves, while fertile shoots produce alternate leaves along the lower half of their culms. Each culm is green, hairless, 3-angled, and strongly winged along each angle; its interior tends to be soft and spongy, especially in the lower half. The culms are erect or ascending and rather stiff, but easily broken if they are subjected to pressure. Immediately underneath the terminal inflorescence, the texture of each culm is rough, otherwise it is usually smooth. The leaves are up to 18" long and 1/3" across (or slightly wider). They are light green to green, linear, glabrous, and slightly scabrous along their margins. The larger leaves are often longitudinally indented toward the middle; they are rather soft-textured and floppy. The sheaths of the leaves are rather fragile and separate easily from the culm. Sometimes the surface of a separated sheath has a puckered and wrinkly appearance from numerous cross-lines. At the base of each plant, there are often the withered brown remnants of last year's leaves. Each stalk terminates in an inflorescence up to 2" long. This inflorescence consists of 6-15 short spikelets that are loosely clustered together. The spikelets are initially green, but they later become yellowish brown. Each spikelet consists of several pistillate flowers and their scales, which are densely clustered together. There are also staminate flowers at the apex of each spikelet, but they are few in number and insignificant. The perigynia of the pistillate flowers are broadly lanceolate-ovate, tapering to a long beak. They are about 3-4 mm. long and 2 mm. across. Immediately underneath each perigynium, there is an ovate pistillate scale that tapers to an acute point or short awn; it is a little shorter than the perigynium. Each pistillate scale has a green central vein and translucent margins, although it later becomes light brown. There are usually a few linear bracts among the spikelets; these bracts are up to 1½" long. The blooming period occurs for 1-2 weeks during late spring and the achenes develop during the early summer. Each achene is about 2 mm. long and a little less across; it is somewhat angular and flattened, becoming yellowish brown as it matures. The root system consists of short rhizomes and coarse fibrous roots. Tight tufts of plants often develop from the rhizomes.
Cultivation: The preference is light shade to full sun, moist conditions, and a fertile loamy soil.
Range & Habitat: Soft Fox Sedge occurs occasionally in most areas of central and northern Illinois; it is less common or absent in the southern portion of the state (see Distribution Map). Habitats include openings in floodplain forests, moist meadows in wooded areas, thickets, riverbottom prairies, prairie swales, streambanks, and powerline clearances in moist woodlands.
Faunal Associations: The flowers are wind-pollinated and do not attract many insects. 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 eaten by various 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 powerline clearance at Busey Woods in Urbana, Illinois. The foliage is more yellow than it normally appears because the photographs were taken during the evening.
Comments: Soft Fox Sedge can be distinguished from most other Carex spp. (Sedges) by its 3-angled strongly winged culms. Other sedges have round or 3-angled culms, but they are rarely winged. However, Carex alopecoidea (Foxtail Sedge) has 3-angled strongly winged culms and its inflorescence is similar to the inflorescence of Soft Fox Sedge. Foxtail Sedge can be distinguished by its more narrow leaves (up to ¼" across), the lack of wrinkled puckering of its sheaths, and its more narrow perigynia (up to 1.8 mm. across). Otherwise, these two sedges are quite similar to each other. A commonly encountered species, Carex vulpinoidea (Fox Sedge), has 3-angled culms that are not winged and its inflorescence is usually longer than the preceding species (up to 4" long). Otherwise, its appearance is similar to Soft Fox Sedge and Foxtail Sedge.