Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

February Wildflower Wednesday: An exceptional Carex

Carex plantaginea/Plantain leaved sedge/Seersucker sedge is a wonderful addition to a woodland garden, you might even say it's an exceptional sedge.

Carex plantaginea

 I've planted it along the stone path to the front porch with Blephilia subnuda, Camassia, Christmas fern,  and Trilliums. Planted close together means they provide an attractive mulch beneath the grassy Chasmanthium latifolium and Hydrangea arborescens. I like how the different textures intermingle. What would you think about planting it with native Sedums, wild geraniums and other finer leaved sedges? I'm going to give that a try this spring.


Carex plantaginea is one of the easiest sedges to identify with its shiny, wide deep green leaves that are puckered like seersucker. If you look closely at the photo above you can see that each leaf has three prominent longitudinal veins. Like most sedges it is semi-evergreen.

 

 Wildlife Value

Seersucker sedge is more often chosen for its attention getting puckered evergreen leaves but, don't over look their flowers. Flowering in early to mid-spring, the male flowers at the top of the flowing stem appear yellow due to the pollen. The female flowers below them on the same stem are purplish thin and black-tipped. It's been described as not especially showy,  but I appreciate the colorful flowering wands that decorate it in early spring. So do butterflies, other pollinators and song birds. 


The seeds of native sedges are eaten by many kinds of wildlife including ducks, grouse, wild turkeys, sandpipers, and sparrows, to name a few. They're also a food source for caterpillars and small mammals. Because they bloom in spring, sedges provide an early meal before most native grasses begin to bloom.

The male and female purplish/black flowers are interesting when back lit by the setting sun.


Seersucker Sedge is found growing in meadows and rich woods in the Eastern USA from Minnesota to Maine and south to Alabama and Georgia (Zones 4-8). An evergreen plant with showy foliage, it makes a great texture plant for moist shady places. It will slowly spread to make a nice ground cover; you can speed that process along by dividing your plants every couple of years. A very low maintenance plant that requires only the removal of the dead leaves in late winter. I am especially found of its semi-evergreen habit since so much of my woodland garden is brown during the winter. 


According to some sources, it's a Goldilocks of a plant and prefers a rich woodland soil that's not too wet or not too dry. Finding the right spot for them in a garden that is often too wet or too dry wasn't nearly the challenge I thought it would be. The soil along the path has been enriched with leaf mold for years and is the perfect medium. The ferns and other natives that are planted with it should make that part of the garden glow this spring. (Not The Climate For Xeric)


an unknown Carex in a container


Let's talk about sedges for a bit. I've been thinking about them for quite some time. Not only would I like more native sedges in my garden, I would love to be able to identify the ones that are already here. 

Sedges are grass-like plants, but their leaf shape differs from grasses.  I know you are probably are familiar with this Mnemonic: “Sedges have edges, Rushes are round, Grasses are Hollow, straight to the ground”

They really do have triangular stems, but they don't all look the same. Their leaves can be short and fine-textured or bold and wide-bladed like our Wildflower Star. Their flowers and seed heads are also attention getting, many have showy bristles or mace-like capsules.


Sedges are for the most part perennial and evergreen. They're often cool season, shade loving, but, several very attractive for our gardens can take full sun if the soil is moist or wet. It’s the largest genus of flowering plants in North America (about 500 species) which means there are a lot of sedge choices, if only more were available. Native sedges are found thriving in just about any environment, from woodlands to marshes, and even dry sand. Arching, spiky, mounding, compact or airy, their ornamental qualities and their many uses have made them increasingly popular in the designed landscape. (source)

Biologist and Carex expert Dr. Robert Naczi says sedges are poorly understood in nature and few have been cultivated. “When people catch on to the diversity of colors, growth forms and growing conditions, they will embrace them in a big way,” he predicts. “There’s a sedge for every spot.”(source

Claudia West (source) says “We need to move away from mulch and fill gaps in the landscape with plants to provide habitat and hold the soil. Sedges provide essential soil-building function and support wildlife. They may not be the showiest, but many are evergreen so you see them in winter – green, lush and gorgeous.”

 Sedges, especially native sedges, have been lumped into the weed category for years! Which is too bad, that means most of the sedges for sale are usually not native. Once again our natives are overlooked for the showier exotic from the other side of the world. Those exotics might be lovely variegated beauties, but, I want more than beauty from plants that I add to my garden. I expect plants to feed the critters while they feed my soul. (Gardening For Wildlife)

I plan to add more Carex to the garden this year. In case you still need convincing!
  • There's a Carex species for most of our ecological niches (sun, shade, wet, dry, etc.), 
  • They make lovely specimen plants, 
  • They're great as a living mulch
  •  They make a great lawn substitute
  • They control erosion in wet areas
  • They're mostly evergreen, what garden doesn't need more green in the winter
  • They have wildlife value


You can find Seersucker sedge and many others that will fill the ecological niche that's your garden from most native plant nurseries.  I appreciate that they bring more diversity to Clay and Limestone. Native sedges are part of my woodland eco-system, they were here before I started gardening and their seeds and flowers continue to provide food for butterflies, birds, and mammals. Now to learning just which ones I have, besides our exceptionally wonderful Wildflower Wednesday star.

Please plant more native sedges! xoxogail

 

The Particulars

Botanical name: Carex plantaginea 

Common Name: Seersucker sedge, Plaintain-leaved sedge

Sedge Family: Cyperaceae 

Native Range: Western North America 

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 3a, 3b, 4b, 4a, 5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7a, 7b, 8b, 8a

Height: 10"-12"

Bloom Time: April and May

Bloom Description: Small purple brown flowers

Leaves: Showy in the garden with a seersucker like puckering of wide leaves

Sun: part-shade, shade

Water: moist

Soil: acid, neutral, alkaline, rich, average, loam, clay, gravel/rock

Maintenance: Low 

Suggested Use: Water Plant, Naturalize, Rain Garden, Butterfly garden, woodland garden, meadow garden, containers, Shade garden

Flower: colorful flowering wands

Wildlife Value: This plant supports various Satyr larvae. Song birds, butterflies and other pollinators

Tolerate: Deer, Drought

Comments: evergreen, fall interest, ornamental foliage, rock garden plant, shade garden plant, woodland plant. Kristen Grannan  says that Carex works and plays hard. I agree with her. It’s a versatile grass and can be used as turf, to fight erosion, or as a volunteer in a bioswale.


Thank you for stopping by and welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.




Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

10 comments:

  1. Very nice, Gail. I wish I could just pop on over and see your garden. Someday, maybe. Happy almost spring!

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  2. I just love sedges. You have highlighted my favorite so far. I have several in my garden. C.Frankii I planted because my son's name is Frank. ha... it has been a busy sedge. It has seeded around where it is planted, sort of a spot that floods then gets really dry. Interesting seed heads. My neighbor thought I had planted sand burrs. Those things are awful. I should say hurtful. Frankii's seedheads don't stick like that. Then one that I like for the pretty yellow green color is Sallow Sedge. It isn't supposed to like dry but I have it in a sort of dry area. I am sort of getting into these plants.

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  3. I have a sedge that pops up here and there in my yard (western NY) and have always considered it a weed. Perhaps I should let it grow this year and see what happens. I have no idea what variety it is.

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    1. Let us know what it looks like when full grown.

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  4. I have a few sedges. Mostly volunteers reclaiming their space. Hard to find indigenous choices at nurseries, but we have our lowland fynbos nursery almost ready to reopen after they moved.

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  5. Well, I have plenty of nutsedge...Unfortunately... 😫

    I don't have too much shade, but I did try planting some sedges. Pennsylvania sedge petered out on a partially wooded east-facing hillside, but I think I'll try it again on flatter land. I believe it got too dry...or maybe the soil was just too clayey and compacted?

    I think I have some natives springing up here and there. Could be C. plantaginea, but leaves look more blue-green, so I was thinking C. flaccosperma?

    The only I've planted intentionally that has survived is C. muskingumensis (palm sedge), although that one too would like it much wetter than where I have it, I think. It's hanging in there, but not really thriving.

    As Diana wrote above, it's very hard for me to find a good source for native sedges. I do hope to add C. albicans and C. texensis within the next year. I've read very good things about both of them! 😃

    You and your readers might enjoy this article on sedges... https://piedmontmastergardeners.org/article/the-sedge-alternative/

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