Gray's sedge is cool season and semi-evergreen thrives in moist to wet spaces such as near ponds, pools, and lakes.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Carex grayi is a perennial sedge that forms attractive slowly spreading clumps. The narrow leaves are shiny, upright and are usually semi-evergreen. In early summer greenish spherical flower spikes are held above the graceful shaggy foliage. The unique flowers resemble a starburst even after they transition into warm brown seed clusters. This sedge prospers in part sun to part shade in moist or wet soils. Plants tolerate full sun if abundant moisture is present.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Carex grayi is native to Ontario, Quebec and most of the eastern and central United States.
Plants are indigenous to moist or wet deciduous forests, sandy swamps, wet depressions, shaded seeps, wet prairies, marshes and margins of creek and rivers. This sedge is usually found in wet soils but may occasionally move into nearby mesic woodlands.
Hardy from USDA Zones 5-9.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Carex grayi forms loose tufts of arching glossy foliage. Leaves are about ½” wide and 14” long. They are lime green and pleated. Plants gradually form colonies from short underground rhizomes.
Leafy culms rise above the basal foliage to 2½’. Each culm is topped with a staminate spikelet and 2 unique pistillate spikelets.
The pistillate spikelets are globe shaped. They consist of 10-35 inflated light green diamond shaped perigynia. The perigynia taper to sharp points which radiate in all directions. The overall appearance is reminiscent of a Morning Star which is a medieval spiked club type weapon similar to a mace.
As seed begins to form, the spherical spikes transition from green to golden brown.
This sedge is up to 2.5’ tall with a 2’ spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Carex grayi grows best in part sun or part shade. Plants thrive in wet or moist conditions and tolerate seasonal flooding. Soil preference is for a loam, silt or sand that is high in organic matter.
Plants are pest resistant and unpalatable to deer and other herbivores.
If this highly ornamental sedge is planted in a garden situation, foliage should be cut to the ground during late winter.
LANDSCAPE USES: Carex grayi is useful in difficult wet shady niches. This sedge performs well in wet meadows and is a good component for a Grouping or Mass Planting. Plants provide Erosion Control, Showy Flowers and Winter Interest and are appropriate for Deer Resistant Plantings, Low Maintenance Plantings, Rain Gardens, Restoration Projects and Wildlife Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Suitable companions for Carex grayi can range from prairie plants to residents of wet woodlands. A few possibilities are: Aster novae-angliae, Chasmanthium latifolium, Lobelia siphilitica, Osmunda cinnamomea, and Sorghastrum nutans.
Carex amphiloba could be substituted if needed. The two sedges have similar cultural needs but C. amphiloba is much shorter.
TRIVIA: Carex grayi was named for renowned botanist Asa Gray and was formerly known as Carex asa-grayii.
Like many other wetland sedges, the perigynia of Gray's Sedge are inflated. This allows the perigynium to function like “water wings” allowing the structure to float and disperse the seed by water. The upland sedges usually have flattened perigynia often with winged margins. This allows them to catch the breeze and expedites wind dispersal.
For more information on this plant, visit the USDA PLANTS Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=CAGR5