Thursday, April 29, 2010

Juniper Sedge and Friends

This is Juniper Sedge, Carex juniperorum, one of the Ohio rarities that does well at Blue Jay Barrens. It’s one of those inconspicuous plants that most dismiss as a grass. Many people avoid studying the sedges, saying that they are too difficult to identify. I think people are put off because most of the sedges don’t have big showy blooms and you often need magnification to clearly see the identifying characteristics. I admit that it’s sometimes difficult to decipher the descriptions in the texts, but several species run through the keys quite nicely. When I’m having trouble with sedge identification, I like to think about Juniper Sedge. This plant was overlooked or misidentified by botanists for decades before it was recognized as a new species a mere 20 years ago. If the professionals can have trouble, I can be allowed to have trouble.

Those swollen masses are the perigynia, each of which contains a nut like seed. The short stalk coming up from the center of the mass held the male parts of the flower. Perigynium shape and features are important in properly identifying many sedges. A 10X magnifier certainly comes in handy for looking at the tiny details.

This is a typical landscape for Juniper Sedge. Look for these plants where there is shallow limestone soil. Eastern Red Cedar, a type of juniper, is normally common on these sites and was the source of the common name for this plant.

Here’s a shot of the bloom at its prime. Not a showy flower, but it efficiently accomplishes the job of seed production. The plant produces an abundance of seeds that are easy to germinate.

Juniper Sedge is low growing and not particularly noticeable. If not confined by surrounding vegetation, the growth radiates from a central core. This makes the plant look as though it had been mashed beneath someone’s shoe. Plants in crowded conditions or growing up through dead grass stalks have their leaves held more upright.

These last few shots are to help with Tom Arbour’s efforts to get people to appreciate the sedges. He has photographically demonstrated their beauty and I have to agree that we do have some lovely sedges. A hands-and-knees posture is usually required in order to gain a full appreciation of this group of plants.

Many types of sedge would be perfect additions to a perennial flower bed. I’ve used a few around the house and they are very attractive, as well as being practically maintenance free.

I would love to have a sedge lawn. There are many sedges that would limit their leafy growth to ten inches or less and make a really lovely ground cover. I do have a couple of prairie areas here that are dominated by Hirsute Sedge, Carex complanata, so I know that growing a solid stand of sedges is possible on dry sites.

The noticeable part of the sedge flower is the cluster of stamens from the male flowers. The female flowers are usually not very noticeable. In this sedge, the female flowers are located between the leaf and the base of the male flower stalk. Looks sort of like a bug got squashed in there with a couple little legs left sticking out.


  1. Steve- Thanks for picking up where I left off- Juniper sedge is one of Ohio's great plants- your area is the stronghold for it in the world, although each year it seems like a few new locations for it turn up across the upper midwest.

    Sedge lawn- that sounds like a fantastic idea. Maybe I should set up some test plots in my backyard?


  2. Love this post. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I can't help but think of human interactions while reading this.

  3. Tom - I've got a good candidate for a lawn sedge growing on the slope behind my barn. Unfortunately, I have yet to identify it. I'll have work on it this year.

    Sedge lawn test plots could spark the reinvention of the urban landscape. Wouldn't that be something?

    Thanks Katie. The sedges aren't quite as lively as your grunion, but their behavior and annual appearance can sometimes be just as unpredictable.