The Virtue of Patience

by Carl Strang

One of the many lessons I am learning as I dive into the world of sedges, grasses and rushes is the importance of patience. I see a sedge bristling with anthers (the pollen-dropping male flower parts) and grab a sample, stick it under the microscope and dig out the botanical key. The result is unsatisfactory. I find I have to wait for the female flowers to mature. A case in point was a sedge I found in Mayslake Forest Preserve’s south savanna, near the shore of May’s Lake.

It grows in tufts, and has fairly wide leaves for a short plant.

Though it resembled the common wood sedge, Carex blanda, the female flowers looked smaller and more strung out on a longer section of stem.

When I keyed out this sedge, however, I nevertheless kept coming up with C. blanda.

I decided to wait, but keep an eye on these plants. Last week I noticed that the female flowers had grown larger.

Can you see the difference from the previous photo?

That change made the difference, and now the sedge keyed clearly to Carex grisea, the wood gray sedge.

Incidentally, You may have noticed that I have begun to use more scientific names in these posts. This is in part because these plants are less familiar, known by fewer people, and so their English names are less standardized than in forbs and woody plants. The main reason, though, is the uninspiring English names that have been bestowed on many sedges. Wood gray sedge? Broad-leaved woolly sedge? Running marsh sedge? Is that the best we can do? At least the scientific name, Carex grisea in today’s example, has the advantage of economy.

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