FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Carex scoparia is a fine textured clumping cool season sedge. In summer triangular leafy stems rise above the tufts of narrow grass-like foliage. The culms bear scaly green to tan bullet shaped flower clusters that transition into coppery brown seed heads. This perennial wetland sedge thrives in sunny sites with wet to moist soil.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Carex scoparia is native to North America from the southern Canadian provinces through most of the continental United States.
Plants are indigenous to wet prairies, wet meadows, marshes, fens, open floodplain forests, margins of ponds, streams and creeks, gravelly seeps, wet roadsides and ditches. Plants are found in a wide range of high quality and disturbed wetlands.
Hardy from USDA Zones 4-8.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Carex scoparia forms dense tussocks from short creeping rhizomes.
The vegetative culms are produced in small numbers. They bear only a few leaves that are clustered toward the tip.
The more numerous flowering culms are erect, stiff and triangular with 3-5 leaves per stem. The narrow blades are about 1/8” wide and about 10” long. The leaf sheaths wrap tightly around the stem. The sheaths are membranous and indented so that a “U” shape is formed.
In summer each flowering culm is topped by 3-10 nodding spikelets. The spikelets are a little more than ½” long with a pointed base and tip. Overall, the spikelets have a bullet-like or ellipsoidal shape.
The spikelets produce pistillate (female) florets above and staminate (male) florets below. The pistillate florets are enclosed inside inflated pale green to tan veined perigynia. The perigynia have pointed beaks and winged margins.
At maturity, the perigynia are golden brown with an ellipsoidal achene nestled inside. Since the lightweight perigynia float, the achenes are distributed by water.
Plants are 1-2.5’ tall with 1-2’ spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: This is a wetland sedge that prospers in sunny sites with wet or moist soil.
Plants tolerate part shade and mucky, sandy or gravelly soils but will decline if aggressively shaded by taller companions.
Like most sedges, this one is pest resistant and fairly unpalatable to deer and other herbivores.
LANDSCAPE USES: Carex scoparia is a useful component of wet Prairies, margins of Water Gardens and Rain Gardens. Plants provide Erosion Control and are appropriate for Groupings or Mass Plantings, Deer Resistant Plantings, Low Maintenance Plantings, Meadows, Restoration Projects, Stormwater Management Projects and Wildlife Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing Carex scoparia with Asclepias incarnata, Aster puniceus, Eupatorium perfoliatum Iris versicolor, Iris virginica, Juncus effusus or Lobelia cardinalis.
Carex vulpinoidea is similar in appearance and cultural needs and can be substituted if needed.
TRIVIA: The specific epithet of Carex scoparia is from a Latin word meaning “broom-like”. This probably refers to the plant’s upright shape.
The common name “broom sedge” is shared with the unrelated grass Andropogon virginicus. Carex scoparia is also known as pointed broom sedge.
Carex scoparia can be differentiated from similar Carex spp. by its very narrow blades that are shorter than the culms, the “U-shaped” sheath indention and by the unusual elliptical form of the spikelets.
Carex scoparia seed are consumed by various insects, wetland birds, songbirds, small rodents and turtles. Plants host caterpillars of several skippers and moths. Foliage provides cover and nesting sites.