FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Carex brevior is a versatile perennial sedge of prairies and wetlands. In summer triangular leafy stems rise above low tufts of narrow grass-like foliage. The culms bear prickly green oval spikelets that transition into golden brown seed clusters. This adaptable sedge can flourish in sun or part shade and in dry, mesic or wet soils.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: This sedge is native to the southern Canadian provinces and in most of the United States. Plants are absent from several southeastern U. S. states and a few far west states.
Carex brevior is indigenous to a wide variety of habitats including well-drained or upland sites (dry-mesic prairies, savannas, open woods and dry banks). Plants also adapt to wetland or seasonally flooded sites (swamps, wet depressions, floodplains, wet prairies and creek banks) and disturbed sites (railroad right of ways, sunny ditches, pastures and roadsides).
Hardy from USDA Zones 3-8.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Carex brevior grows in low bunches from short creeping rhizomes. Foliage greens and initiates growth in early spring before the warm season grasses begin to grow.
Leaf blades are usually about 1’ long and 1/8” wide. The leaf sheaths at the base of each blade has an unusual whitish color and an almost glassy appearance.
In late spring multiple leafy culms rise above the foliage to 3-4’. Each culm bears 2-6 oval flower spikes. Each green spikes contain upper pistillate and lower staminate florets. The spikelets are tapered at the base and bluntly pointed at the tip. The flowers transition into reddish brown summer seed spikes.
Plants are 1-4’ tall with an equal spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Carex brevior is an all-purpose sedge that prospers in sunny or partly shaded sites with dry, average or moist soil.
Plants tolerate drought, controlled burns, alkaline pH and soil disturbance. They can be cut or burned to the ground in late winter.
This sedge is pest resistant and fairly unpalatable to deer and other herbivores.
LANDSCAPE USES: Carex brevior is a useful component of Prairies, Meadows and Rain Gardens. It provides Erosion Control and Stormwater Management and is appropriate for Groundcover or Mass Plantings, Deer Resistant Plantings, Water Wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings, Roadsides, Restoration Projects and Wildlife Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing plants with Asclepias syriaca, Aster oblongifolius, Eryngium yuccifolium, Sporobolus heterolepis and Andropogon gerardii.
Carex molesta is similar in appearance and can be substituted in moister sites if needed.
TRIVIA: Carex brevior along with the few other prairie dwelling sedges can make up as much as a quarter of the plant residents in a tallgrass prairie.
This sedge was formerly known as Carex festucacea var. brevior.
Carex brevior is very similar to the closely related Carex molesta. To differentiate between the two, examine the shape and arrangement of the spikes. C. brevior has spikes with a tapered base that are arranged on the culm with space between while C. molesta has spikes with a rounded base that are packed close together. The perigynia are sacs that enclose the pistillate flowers and seed. C. brevior has flat rounded perigynia with nerves or veins and C. molesta has rounded perigynia without nerves.