Hitchcock's Sedge
Carex hitchcockiana
Sedge family (Cyperaceae)

Description: This perennial sedge is 1–2' tall, forming small tufts of culms with alternate leaves. Each culm is light to medium green, sharply 3-angled, and hairless. About 2-4 leaves occur along the length of each culm. The leaf blades are up to 12" long and 3-7 mm. across; they are medium green and hairless (or nearly so), usually spreading outward from the culm in arching curves. The leaf sheaths are medium green, vertically veined, and short-pubescent.

Each culm terminates in an inflorescence consisting of 2-4 lateral pistillate (female) spikelets, a terminal staminate (male) spikelet, and their leafy bracts. The pistillate spikelets are –1" long, consisting of 2-8 perigynia and their pistillate scales; these spikelets are held erect on short slender peduncles. The perigynia and their scales are distributed somewhat sparsely along the length of each spikelet. The perigynia are 4.0–5.5 mm. long, 2.0 mm. across, obovoid, finely veined, and glabrous. At the apex, each perigynium has a short beak (about 1 mm. long) that is slightly curved, while the base of the perigynium tapers gradually to a wedge-like shape. The pistillate scales are as long or longer than their perigynia. Each pistillate scale is ovate and long-awned; it is largely white-membranous at the bottom and green-veined in the center. The slender staminate spikelet is –1" long, varying in color from membranous-white to tan; it is held erect on a slender peduncle about –1" long. At the base of each pistillate spikelet, there is a large leafy bract that closely resembles the leaves below. These leafy bracts are sufficiently long to overtop the inflorescence. The blooming period occurs from late spring to early summer; the florets are cross-pollinated by the wind. The achenes are 2.5–3.5 mm. long, obovoid, bluntly 3-angled, and glabrous. The root system is short-rhizomatous and fibrous.

Cultivation: The preference is dappled sunlight to medium shade, mesic conditions, and rich soil (loam or rocky loam) containing some organic matter.

Range & Habitat: The native Hitchcock's Sedge is found primarily in central and northern Illinois, where it is uncommon and local. Habitats include mesic deciduous woodlands, rocky woodlands, bluffs, and slopes of bluffs. This sedge is found in above-average to high quality natural areas.

Faunal Associations: Various insects feed on woodland sedges (Carex spp.), including the caterpillars of Satyrodes appalachia (Appalachian Brown), caterpillars of some moths, leafhoppers (primarily Cosmotettix spp.), and the stink bug Mormidea lugens. The seeds are eaten by the Wild Turkey, young Ruffed Grouse, Eastern Towhee, Common Redpoll, and Slate-Colored Junco. Woodlands sedges are a minor source of food to some mammals. For example, the Black Bear and White-Tailed Deer eat the foliage and spikelets, Gray Squirrel and Fox Squirrel eat the seeds and spikelets, and the Common Mole reportedly feeds on the roots (Martin et al., 1951/1961).

Photographic Location: The photographed sedge was taken from a bluff in Vermilion County, Illinois.

Comments: This lanky woodland sedge has a leafy appearance from top to bottom. It differs from many other woodland sedges by the relatively large size of its perigynia and scales, the odd shape of its perigynia, the long awns of its pistillate scales, and its pubescent sheaths. The most similar sedge, Carex oligocarpa (Few-Fruited Sedge), differs from Hitchcock's Sedge by its smaller perigynia and achenes, and its hairless sheaths. Both of these species are found in wooded areas.