Short's Sedge
Carex shortiana
Sedge family (Cyperaceae)

Description: This perennial plant is 1–2' tall, consisting of tufts of basal leaves and flowering culms with alternate leaves. The culms are light green, hairless, and 3-angled (at least below). The leaves are light green, glabrous, linear, and slightly rough along the margins; they are up to 12" in length and 1/3" across. The longer leaves have a tendency to arch near the middle; the upper surface of each leaf is often indented where the central vein occurs. The culms are unbranched, ascending or erect, and up to 2' long. The cauline leaves of the culms are a little smaller than the basal leaves, otherwise their appearance is quite similar.


Each fertile culm terminates in an inflorescence consisting of 3-5 spikelets. Each spikelet is up to 1" long, " across, and cylindrical in shape. The uppermost spikelet has pistillate flowers above and staminate flowers below, while the remaining spikelets have only pistillate flowers. The scales of the staminate flowers are oblanceolate, while the scales of the pistillate flowers are ovate; they are both about 3 mm. long. The perigynia of the pistillate flowers are obovate and somewhat flattened; they are about 3 mm. long. The perigynia are initially green, but later become dark brown; they are densely distributed along the length of the spikelets. Each pistillate flower has a tripartite style. Each spikelet is short-stalked or sessile. There are one or more slender leafy bracts near the spikelets. The blooming period occurs during late spring or early summer. Each pistillate flower produces an obovoid achene that is 3-angled and about 2 mm. long. The root system consists of dark scaly rhizomes and fibrous roots. This plant often forms vegetative offsets.

Cultivation: The preference is full to partial sun, moist conditions, and a fertile loamy soil. Most vegetative growth occurs during the spring. By mid-summer, the achenes have fallen from the spikelets.

Range & Habitat: The native Short's Sedge is occasional to locally common in southern and central Illinois, while in the northern part of the state it is uncommon to absent (see Distribution Map). Habitats include openings in moist deciduous woodlands, woodland borders, moist prairies (particularly along rivers), sedge meadows, seeps and fens, low-lying areas along rivers and ponds, powerline clearances in wooded areas, abandoned fields, and ditches. This species is typically found in moist meadows near wooded areas and thickets.

Faunal Associations: The flowers are pollinated by wind, rather than insects. The caterpillars of butterflies (Satyrodes spp.), skippers (Euphyes spp. and others), and moths feed on Carex spp. (Sedges). See the Lepidoptera Table for a listing of these species. Some grasshoppers and other kinds of insects also feed on Carex spp., including the following Leafhoppers (Cicadellidae): Cosmotettix lineatus, Cosmotettix luteocephalus, Cosmotettix bierni, and Elymana inornata. The seeds and/or spikelets of Carex spp. are an important source of food to many kinds of birds, including upland gamebirds, waterfowl, and songbirds (see the Bird Table for a listing of these species). The habitat of the particular Carex sp. determines which birds are likely to use its seeds and/or spikelets. While the Common Mole primarily eats invertebrates and insects in the soil, it also eats the roots and rhizomes of Carex spp. to a limited extent.

Photographic Location: Along a path near a powerline clearance in Busey Woods, Urbana, Illinois.

Comments: The most distinctive feature of Short's Sedge is the dark brown color of the mature spikelets, which makes this species rather showy during the early summer. The light green leaves are fairly typical of most Carex spp. (Sedges). Short's Sedge is a member of a small group of Sedges that have the staminate flowers underneath the pistillate flowers on the same spikelet (i.e., it's gynecandrous). This special arrangement of the flowers is usually restricted to the uppermost spikelet, while the lower spikelets consist of all pistillate flowers. The pistillate flowers are densely packed together, which gives the cylindrical spikelets a grainy appearance.

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