James' Sedge
Carex jamesii
Sedge family (Cyperaceae)

Description: This perennial sedge consists of a dense tuft of vegetative shoots and fertile culms. The culms are shorter than the blades of the leaves. The culms are about 2-4" long, light green, sharply 3-angled, and hairless; they are slightly winged and rough-textured along their edges. Each culm has several alternate leaves along its length; however, the lowest leaves are primarily sheaths without blades. The widely spreading leaf blades are up to 7" long and 3.5 mm. across; they are light to medium green and glabrous. Each leaf blade is keeled/channeled along its length in the middle. The two outer sides of each sheath are light green and hairless, while the inner side of the sheath is membranous. Toward the base of each culm, the sheaths become brown. Each culm terminates in a tight cluster of 2-3 pistillate spikelets and a single staminate spikelet. Each pistillate spikelet consists of a perigynium and its pistillate scale. Each perigynium is about 5 mm. long and 2.0 mm. across; its apex consists of a beak about 2 mm. long, while its main body is obovoid in shape (globoid with a wedge-shaped bottom). The outer surface of an immature perigynium is light green and glabrous. The pistillate scales of the perigynia are leafy in appearance; they are typically 5-20 mm. long. The base of each pistillate scale is slightly swollen; this is where its margins are membranous. Adjacent to the perigynia, is a narrow staminate spikelet up to 8 mm. long. The staminate scales of this spikelet have blunt or truncate tips with dark brown margins; this provides the staminate spikelet with a banded appearance. The blooming period occurs from mid- to late spring. The pistillate florets of the perigynia are wind-pollinated. Inside each perigynium, there is a small achene about 2.0-2.5 mm. long that is globoid in shape and bluntly 3-angled. The root system is fibrous and short-rhizomatous. This sedge spreads primarily by reseeding itself.

Cultivation: The preference is partial sun to medium shade, mesic conditions, and a fertile loamy soil. This sedge also tolerates drier and damper locations. In relatively open areas, it forms a low spreading clump of leaves and culms less than 1' tall. The leaves of the vegetative shoots persist throughout the summer.

Range & Habitat: The native James' Sedge occurs throughout Illinois and is fairly common (see Distribution Map). Habitats include rich mesic woodlands (typically Maple-Basswood), wooded slopes, wooded groves (where the ground vegetation is infrequently mowed underneath large trees), and edges of woodland paths. Less often, this sedge may be found in upland woods and swampy woodlands. It can be found in both high quality and somewhat degraded deciduous woodland habitats.

Faunal Associations: The foliage of Carex spp. (Sedges) is eaten by the caterpillars of the butterflies Satyrodes eurydice (Eyed Brown) and Satyrodes appalachia (Appalachian Brown). The foliage is also eaten by leaf beetles (mainly Plateumaris spp.), sedge grasshoppers (Stethophyma spp.), and the caterpillars of several skippers (Euphyes spp. & Poanes spp.). Leafhoppers that suck juices from sedges include Cosmotettix bilineatus, Cosmotettix luteocephalus, Cosmotettix marginatus, and Elymana inornata. The seeds/seedheads of sedges are an important source of food to many species of birds (see the Bird Table). Which birds are likely to use a sedge species as a source of food depends on the habitat (wetland, woodland, or prairie).

Photographic Location: A wooded grove at Chief Shemauger Park in Urbana, Illinois.

Comments: James' Sedge is easy to identify because of the unique appearance of its clustered spikelets. In particular, the pistillate scales are unusually long and leafy, while the culms are unusually short. Perhaps the most similar sedge is Carex wildenowii (Wildenow's Sedge), which is found in southern Illinois. The perigynium of this latter species tapers gradually from its main body to form a long beak, while the perigynium of James' Sedge tapers abruptly from its main body to form a long beak. Unlike James' Sedge, Wildenow's Sedge has staminate scales with slender tips, and its pistillate scales are smaller in size. Another common name of Carex jamesii is Grass Sedge. This woodland sedge develops early in the spring and blooms before the canopy trees have fully developed their leaves.