Green in Winter: Sedges

Sedges are grass-like plants and there is a wonderful diversity of them. There are over 200 species in the genus Carex alone for the Great Lakes area – a fine-grained set of variations on a theme. Many sedges are wetland plants, a few are dry-land plants. My favourites are the sedges of the forest floor, some of which are evergreen.

Broad-leaved sedge (Carex plat
Broad-leaved sedge (Carex platyphylla)

This lovely sedge with blue-grey evergreen leaves is common on the Niagara Escarpment, so common that I took it for granted that it was an everyday species. I was surprised to read that it is considered rare or threatened in several states bordering the Great Lakes. It likes neutral soils but is otherwise no harder to propagate and grow than any other sedge. I like it in shady rock gardens for its winter texture.

Carex pedunculosa
Carex pedunculata

This may be my favourite sedge of all: Carex pedunculata. It doesn’t have a common name. (No, dear fellow botany nerds, Peduncled Sedge is not a genuine common name.) It has narrow, glossy, dark-green leaves, with dark brown bases, that are robustly evergreen. It flowers in early spring with little yellow bottlebrush flowers. When it has colonized into a patch in the woods, it creates a lovely evergreen lawn. My attempt to reproduce this in an urban garden had mixed results: a little too much shade and they died out, a little too much afternoon sun and they fried out. When you add in the fact that they are slow growing and not the easiest to get started from seed, you begin to understand why no-mow, evergreen lawns of Carex pedunculata aren’t in every city garden.

Plantain leaved sedge in a city garden.
Plantain-leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) in a city garden.

Plantain-leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) has broad, for a sedge, leaves with an interesting seersucker texture. This sedge is beginning to appear in landscaping and native plant nurseries as a non-spreading evergreen ground-cover. In the wild, I have found it in moist, shady spots that are protected from winter winds. Unless protected from winter sun and winds in a garden, it can look browned and shabby by winter’s end, but it redeems itself by sending up a very early show of  yellow bottlebrushes. If it flowered in May, you wouldn’t notice them – no sedge is exactly flamboyant in flower – but it flowers in early April and the flowers are a welcome sign of winter’s end.







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Trish Murphy

Artist: botanical, still life, and natural history illustration. Garden designer: native plants and naturalistic gardens