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Awl-fruited sedge, good choice for wetlands and restoration projects. Photo credit: Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA SCS. 1989. Midwest wetland flora: Field office illustrated guide to plant species. Midwest National Technical Center, Lincoln.

Awl-fruited sedge, good choice for wetlands and restoration projects.
Photo credit: Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA SCS. 1989. Midwest wetland flora: Field office illustrated guide to plant species. Midwest National Technical Center, Lincoln. USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 5 October 2012). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Carex stipata

Awl-fruited sedge

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:  Carex stipata is a sprawling wetland sedge that expands from short rhizomes.  New leaves are bright green and fountain-like.  In spring culms rise above the foliage bearing prickly flower clusters.  The green inflorescences mature into spikey chocolate brown seed heads. This sedge prospers in most sites with wet soil.  It prefers sun or light shade with standing water or wet mucky soil.

HABITAT & HARDINESS:  Carex stipata occurs in most of the southern Canadian provinces and all of the United States except for Nevada, Texas and Arkansas. 

This sedge is indigenous to moist or wet bottomland forests, soggy depressions in upland forests, wet prairies and savannas, swamps, seeps, springs and banks of ponds or ditches.

Plants occur in both high quality and disturbed habitats and are hardy from USDA Zones 3-9.

PLANT DESCRIPTION:  Carex stipata is a vigorous sedge that forms open tufts of leafy culms from underground rhizomes.

The culms are smooth, triangular and slightly winged.   The glossy arching leaf blades are a little over ¼” wide and about 2’ long. 

Each fertile culm contains several small spikelets on the lower portion and terminates in a large pyramidal inflorescence.  The inflorescence is a 4” prickly conglomeration of spikelets that evolve through the summer from light green to golden yellow.

Each spikelet contains several female florets with a few male florets toward the tip.  The perigynia of the female florets are a little over 1/8” long with inflated bases and long slender beaks.

The spikelets mature into deep brown clusters of flattened oval achenes.

Plants are about 2-3’ tall with a 3’ spread.

CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Carex stipata thrives in full sun or lightly shaded sites with moist, mucky or wet soil. 

This sedge prospers in shallow standing water and tolerates short periods of drought, heavy clay soil and seasonal flooding.  Plants will persevere in drier soil if they located in shade.

This species is pest resistant and unpalatable to deer and other herbivores.

LANDSCAPE USES:  Carex stipata is valuable for Wetland Restoration and Erosion Control in Bioswales and drainage ditches.  This sedge can be used to reduce maintenance and hold ground on various shorelines.  Plants are appropriate for Deer Resistant Plantings, Wet Meadows, Stormwater Projects and Wildlife Gardens.   

COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS:   Try pairing plants with Asclepias incarnata, Aster puniceus, Eupatorium maculatum, Iris versicolor, Juncus effusus and Scirpus cyperinus.

Carex vulpinoidea is similar in appearance and cultural needs and can be substituted if needed. 

TRIVIA: Carex stipata is a fairly common and very adaptable wetland sedge.  Plants establish quickly and rapidly stabilize wetland soils.

Foliage hosts caterpillars of Appalachian Brown and Eyed Brown butterflies and Black Dash, Dion, Duke’s, Mulberry Wing, Long Dash and Broad-Winged skippers. Seeds are an important food source for wetland birds such as ducks, woodcocks and swamp sparrows and for some upland game birds.

The best identification characteristics for this sedge are the winged triangular stems, the unusually spiky seedheads and their distinctive golden color.  The bristly appearance is due to the long pointed beaks of the perigynia. 

The common name is due to the spikey beaks of the perigynia that are reminiscent of a sharp pointed leather working tool called an awl.


Height:

2-3 ft

Spread:

2-3 ft

Spacing:

2-3 ft

USDA Hardiness Zone:

3-9

Bloom Color:

Green, Tan

Carex stipata Characteristics

Exposure

  • Partial Shade to Full Shade

Critter Resistance

  • Deer Resistant

Attracts Wildlife

  • Butterflies
  • Songbirds
  • Pollinators

Soil Moisture Preference

  • Wet to Moist

Attributes

  • Naturalizing
  • East-Coast Native
  • Rain Garden
  • Bog

Flowering Months

  • June

Foliage Color

  • Green

Season of Interest (Foliage)

  • Spring
  • Winter
  • Fall
  • Summer

Growth Rate

  • Fast

Grass Season

  • Cool Season Grass

Interesting Notes:

Foliage hosts caterpillars of Appalachian Brown and Eyed Brown butterflies and Black Dash, Dion, Duke’s, Mulberry Wing, Long Dash and Broad-Winged skippers. Seeds are an important food source for wetland birds such as ducks, woodcocks and swamp sparrows and for some upland game birds.


Plants that work well with Carex stipata ''

Spotted Joe pye weed Spotted Joe pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum)
Blue flag Blue flag (Iris versicolor)
Soft rush Soft rush (Juncus effusus)
Wool grass Wool grass (Scirpus cyperinus)

Substitutions for Carex stipata

Fox sedge Fox sedge (Carex vulpinoidea)