Carex Confusion

by Carl Strang

Last year it seemed so easy. I began studying the sedges, grasses and similar plants at Mayslake Forest Preserve, and for the most part had an easier time than expected. This year I am continuing to find new sedges, but the most recent ones are giving me more trouble. All three are growing in Mayslake’s woodlands, which I call savannas but which technically have an oak stem density between savanna and forest levels. The first of these sedges is growing mainly vegetatively.

A strip along the west edge of the north savanna above the stream is dominated by the leaves of this sedge, but few of the plants are flowering.

A number of fruiting stalks at one end of the strip provided material for identification, and after wrestling with the key and some on-line references I decided they were Carex normalis.

Carex normalis, the spreading oval sedge, is similar to another species I have found at Mayslake, C. molesta. One difference is that normalis has more spikelets per flowering stalk.

The next one I feel less certain about, although the key seems to point only to one species, the fescue oval sedge (C. festucacia).

This one is growing on a drier site on the slope of the south savanna.

The spikelets have an odd spacing.

The habitat is right for festucacia, but it is described as uncommon.

The third species, growing close to the previous one, I simply cannot identify. One would think that with dozens of species of Carex in our area, it should be possible to find a match, but no dice. It is a single plant, and perhaps it simply is anomalous.

The most striking feature is that most inflorescences are composed entirely of male spikelets.

Others have several female spikelets and a single male one at the tip.

This is perhaps the best example on that plant.

Already the female spikelets are coming apart, perhaps an indication that this plant bloomed early.

It looks like there originally were more spikelets on this stem.

The leaves are relatively narrow.

Clearly this is a tufted species.

While I welcome any help readers can provide on this, my best bet is to catch these plants earlier next year, when they are flowering, and try again.

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