Shoreline Plants  

Species: Carex spp., sedge, swamp grass
Family: Cyperaceae

Sedges are grass-like, fibrous-rooted plants often found growing in marshy areas. A common phrase, "sedges have edges," helps identify these plants, and refers to the fact that most members of this genus have three-sided stems that are triangular in cross-section. More than 130 sedge species occur in Washington. Most inhabit wet areas, although some species are found on dry sites. At the tips of their stems, sedges typically have erect or drooping brown or green flower spikes. Because there are so many species and their flower parts are tiny, sedges are difficult to identify to species.
Shoreline Plant Icon
Leaf: Long, thin, grass-like leaves are arranged in 3 columns up the stem. Look straight down on the plant to observe this.

Stem: The stem is usually triangular in cross-section, but can sometimes be round. Stems are not hollow, but are filled with pith.

Flower: Tiny individual flowers, greenish to brown, lack sepals and petals. Each consists of a single dry scale and either anthers (male flower parts) or a pistil (female flower part). The pistil is always enclosed within a specialized sac-like bract (perigynium). The flowers are arranged in compact or loose spikes at the ends of stems, with male and female flowers in separate sections of the same spike, on separate spikes, or on separate plants.

Fruit: Small brown achenes.

Root: Fibrous; sometimes rhizomatous.

Propagation: Seeds and vegetatively by rhizomes.

Importance of plant: Used by Native Americans for weaving baskets and mats. Seeds used by many birds, and browsed by deer, elk, and moose. Stabilizes shorelines.

Distribution: Worldwide, mostly temperate.

Habitat:  Moist or wet places, estuarine to freshwater systems. Some species occur in dry to semi-arid habitats.

May be confused with: Grasses, which generally have have hollow stems; rushes (Juncus spp.), which have round stems; spike-rushesNative American Use Icon (Eleocharis spp.), which are in the same family as sedges, but are distinguished by their  smaller, more compact flower spikes at the ends of leafless stems; and bulrush (Scirpus spp.) which have cylindrical stems and lack the perigynium.

Two photographs available: Carex sp., Carex sp

Line Drawings: Carex sp.

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