Prickly Sedge
Carex stipata
Sedge family (Cyperaceae)

Description: This perennial sedge forms an open tuft of flowering culms and arching leaves about 1–3' tall. The flowering culms are more or less erect, but tend to topple over with age. The culms are light to medium green, hairless, 3-angled, and slightly winged; they have a compressible spongy texture. About 3-5 leaves are located along the lower one-third of the culm. The leaf blades are up to 8 mm. across and 2' long, light to medium green, hairless, and rather floppy. The leaf sheaths are light green and veined along their outer sides, while their inner sides are membranous; they are rather loose and tear easily (especially along the inner sides), sometimes becoming netted in appearance with age. Each fertile culm terminates in an inflorescence about 1–4" long. An inflorescence has several short spikelets (especially toward the base) and it has a congested prickly appearance overall. Individual floral bracts may occur at the bases of some lower spikelets, but they are very slender and insignificant. Each spikelet has several perigynia that are widely spreading to ascending; most florets are female, although a few male florets occur near the apex of each spikelet. The spikelets are light green while immature, becoming gold-colored and finally turning brown at maturity. The perigynia of the female florets are 4-5 mm. long and lanceoloid in shape with slender elongated beaks; their inner sides are flat, while their outer sides are convex. The pale bases of the perigynia are slightly inflated and bulbous with tiny stipe-like beaks. The pistillate scales are lanceolate and about 3 mm. long; they have green central veins and broad membranous margins. The achenes are ovoid, slightly flattened, and no more than 2.0 mm. long. The root system is fibrous and short-rhizomatous.

Cultivation: The preference is light shade to full sun and moist to slightly wet conditions. This sedge adapts to a variety of soil types, including a heavy clay-loam. In shaded situations, it tolerates drier conditions.

Range & Habitat: The native Prickly Sedge is widely distributed in Illinois; in most areas, it is occasional to locally common (see Distribution Map). Habitats include moist to wet bottomland woodlands, moist depressions in upland woodlands, swamps, seeps and springs, wet prairies, areas along ponds, and ditches. This sedge is found in both degraded and higher quality habitats.

Faunal Associations: The foliage of wetland sedges is eaten by Stethophyma lineata (Striped Sedge Grasshopper) and Stethophyma celata (Otte's Sedge Grasshopper). The caterpillars of several skippers and butterflies also feed on the foliage, including Euphyes conspicuus (Black Dash), Euphyes dion (Dion Skipper), Euphyes dukesi (Duke's Skipper), Poanes massasoit (Mulberry Wing), Poanes viator (Broad-Winged Skipper), Polites mystic (Long Dash), Satyrodes appalachia (Appalachian Brown), and Satyrodes eurydice (Eyed Brown). The seeds of sedges are eaten by the seed bugs Cymus angustatus and Oedancala dorsalis, while the larvae of several billbugs (Sphenophorus spp.) live in the stems. Seedheads of wetland sedges are a source of food for Mallards and other ducks, several rails, woodcocks, Swamp Sparrows, and some upland gamebirds. The foliage is rarely eaten by White-Tailed Deer.

Photographic Location: Near a pond at Weaver Park in Urbana, Illinois.

Comments: Prickly Sedge has a sprawling habit and spiky seedheads. It is similar in appearance to several other sedges, except that its perigynia have unusually long tapered beaks, while their bases are pale and swollen. The most similar species is Carex laevivaginata, which has sheaths that are thickened at their summits and less likely to shred. The perigynia of this sedge are longer (5.0–6.5 mm.) than those of Prickly Sedge, its leaves are less floppy, and its seedheads don't become golden-colored as they mature. Another common name of Carex stipata is Awl-Fruited Sedge.