DIG DEEPER

Carex

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They look similar to grasses, but sedges reside in the Cyperaceae family and are not true grasses. In the trade, most of the plants we call sedges are in the genus Carex. It’s marked by its diversity in color, texture, and cultural adaptation. We grow three relatively distinct groups of Carex.

Sedges from Asia are well-adapted to shade and are often variegated. Their vibrancy adds brightness and depth to shady spots and almost all are suited to container plantings. Many are evergreen in mild climates. Although most sedges are not grown for their flowering, blooms on Asian species are often more prominent than their relatives from other parts of the world.

The sedges from New Zealand can take more sun. They are determined to add zest wherever planted. The bronze sedges are distinguished by foliage colors that range from caramel to deep red-bronze. New Zealand also brings us the intriguing orange foliage of Carex testacea ‘Prairie Fire’.

North American sedges have become an important component of restoration projects, naturalizing, and green infrastructure features, such as bioretention, bioswales, erosion control, and lawn alternatives. Native sedges are a diverse group and there is bound to be one that fits almost any set of cultural conditions you have.

Illustration supplied by New York Botanical Garden via plantillustrations.org (Illustration ID#293669)
Illustration supplied by New York Botanical Garden via plantillustrations.org (Illustration ID#293669)

DIGGING DEEPER

Plantsman Rick Darke notes that “sedge” refers to any of the nearly 4000 species in the Cyperaceae family. However, the word is most commonly applied to the genus Carex, which resides in the Cyperaceae family. The common name “sedge” comes from the Latin word for sedge, secare, meaning “to cut” and from Old English secg and Middle English sedge derived from Proto-Indo-European sek, which also means “to cut.”

Carex was first characterized by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in his 1753 Species Plantarum. He named fewer than 30 Carex species, but his introduction set off extensive study by botanists. The genus now contains more than 1000 species, and an entire branch of botany called caricology is devoted to the study of Carex. It is one of the largest genera of vascular plants and can be found in almost every ecosystem worldwide

This common name lends rhyme to the saying “Sedges have edges, and rushes are round, but grasses have nodes from their tips to the ground.” The “edges” refer to their stems, which are triangular in cross section. Distinctive inflorescences, fused sheaths, and a lack of nodes also set them apart from true grasses and rushes. Botanists continue to discover the intricacies of Carex as they work to define its distinguishing structures.

Sedges are referenced by great literary artists, appearing in in W. B. Yeats 1899 poem “He Hears the Cry of the Sedge” and in two of Shakespeare’s plays: Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest.

SEDGES AND WILDLIFE

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 natives grasses begin to bloom.

Their foliage serves as valuable cover and nesting sites for birds and other animals. Wood ducks nest in the trees above sedges, using the sedge leaves to soften the fall of fledglings during flying lessons. 

GROWING SEDGES

Sedges can be more challenging to grow than grasses because they tend to be more sensitive to cultural conditions, such as soil moisture, salt concentrations, and temperature fluctuations. They’re slower growing than grasses and take longer to finish in container production. They’re also slower to recover from being cut back than grasses. We suggest cutting them back only if the foliage appearance becomes undesirable. 

Unlike grasses, which can take unfavorable conditions for a while, sedges will quickly show damage when over fertilized or over watered. See our section on Container Production for more information.

The EverColor® Series

These wonderful new selections of C. oshimensis are standouts for containers, ground covers, specimens, or borders. They were developed by Pat Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Nurseries, Ltd., in Ireland from long-time favorite, C. oshimensis ‘Evergold’. The series includes: 'Everoro', 'Everillo', 'Everlime', 'Eversheen', Everest, and 'Everdi'.

What do we love about EverColor®?

  • Year-round color
  • Smart, stylish habit
  • Outstanding in containers
  • Bright groundcover for shade
  • Vigorous but well-behaved

EverColor ® sedges tolerate dry conditions, but do best in moist, well-drained soil, and they do not like to be waterlogged.

With all selections of the EverColor® series, propagation is prohibited without a license. See the EverColor® collection.

We offer a wide variety of Carex (Sedges)

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