Sedges differ from grasses by having a 3-angled stem and structurally different flowers where the female flowers are enclosed in a sac like structure called the perigynium, which is subtended by a single scale. Eastern Woodland Sedge is a densely tufted native woodland sedge. The flowering stems (culms) are triangular in cross-section, 5.5 to 20 inches high, 0.8 to 1 mm wide, usually ascending or lax, sometimes laying over. They have a slight wing. There are flowering and non-flowering stems.
The leaf blades are erect or ascending to lax, mid-green in color, smooth, 1 to 10 mm wide and up to 14 inches long, and usually with a flat 'M' or 'W' shape with a strong central vein forming a furrow along the length.
Leaf sheaths of the basal leaves are pale brown. Other sheaths are membranous and convex on the front (inner side), green and white longitudinally veined on the back (dorsal) side. Ligules are longer than wide.
The inflorescence is in racemose form consisting of 3 to (4) pistillate (female) spikes, usually erect, with the lower scattered, sometimes without stalks, and distant from the upper which are close together, short stalked, and somewhat overlapping the one terminal staminate (male) spike. The pistillate spikes are 15 to 18 mm long and 3 to 4 mm wide. A single staminate spike is above the pistillate, linear in shape, 9 to 20 mm long and 1.8 to 2.4 mm wide. The terminal spike has a stalk of from 0 to 1.7 cm. The inflorescence is subtended by long green bracts at the base of the spikes, that are longer than the spikes. Lower bracts are widest with sheaths exceeding 4mm, longer than wide, bracts of the upper pistillate spikes are longer than the spike, but narrower, not concealing the spike.
The perigynia number 4 to 18 per spike and are closely overlapping. (The bladder-like sacs that enclose the female flower and later the fruit are called perigynia, singular - perigynium). The perigynia are 2.5 to 3.8 mm long and 1.3 to 2.2 mm wide, obovate to elliptic in shape, strongly 25 to 32 veined, 1.5 to 1.9 times as long as the achene body. The body has an abruptly bent beak, pointing away from the inflorescence axis. The scales on the perigynia are pale with a greenish midrib, twice as long as wide, with the tips tapered to a small awn. (Awns are bristle-like appendages at the tip of the seed that can make a twisting response to temperature and humidly changes and thus help the seed to work into the soil). Staminate scales are 1.8 to 3.2 mm long and 1.4 to 1.8 mm wide, with pale translucent margins.
Seed: Female florets have 3 stigmas and when mature form a pale brown, smooth achene 2,1 to 3.2 mm long and 0.8 to 1.8 mm wide. Florets are cross-pollinated by wind.
Habitat: Eastern Wood Sedge is clump forming with short rhizomes. It grows in many environments and soil conditions from wet to dry-mesic, partial sun to shade, but tolerates full sun, thus it is found in woods, open areas, etc, becoming weedy. Stem and leaf size will vary from wet environments to mesic environments.
Names: The genus name, Carex, is from the Latin, being the old name for Sedges. The species, blanda, means 'mild, pleasing or charming' and while lost in obscurity, perhaps refers to the pleasing overall appearance of the plant. The author name for the plant classification, ‘Dewey’ refers to Chester Dewey (1784-1867), American botanist and educator, professor at Williams College and later The University of Rochester. His work in botany is known chiefly for his studies of carices - the Sedges - resulting in a 43 year series of papers titled Caricography.
Comparisons: Eastern Wood Sedge is a member of the sedge section Laxiflorae whose characteristics are: Rhizomatous root systems forming dense tufts, stems brown at the base, not purplish, sheath fronts membranous, blades M shaped to somewhat flat, widest blades 5+ mm; racemose inflorescences with 3 to 6 spikes; perigynia ascending, 8 or more veined, rounded in cross-section, smooth surfaced, with the apex tapering or abruptly forming a a beak that is not split; achenes usually 3 sided with a deciduous style. Of the Laxiflorae sedges, C. blanda has the distinguishing feature of the perigynia overlapping and the ratio of the longer lateral spike in mm to the number of perigynia being between 0.8 and 1.7. The closest look-a-likes are not found in Minnesota but are species of the SE states. These are C. crebriflora, C. stylofexa and C. chapmanii. A Minnesota found similar looking sedge is C. leptonervia, The Few-nerved Wood Sedge, where the upper bracts are narrower than the spikes but the perigynia have 8 to 18 veins with two being conspicuous. It is found primarily in the northern part of Minnesota - particularly the NE corner where C. blanda is less common.
Above: The upper pistillate spikes are bunched together and partially overlap the terminal staminate spike. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An Illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Below: View of upper stem with all the spikes. 2nd photo - the terminal staminate spike. 3rd photo - note the beak of the maturing perigynia bent pointing away from the axis of the inflorescence.
Below: A lower pistillate spike, widely separated from the uppers. Leaf blade profile. Note the wing on the stem in the third photo.
Below: Back and front views of the leaf sheath.
Below: 1st photo - plants usually have upright leaves and stems. 2nd - photo - basal sheaths are pale brown.
Eastern Wood Sedge is one of over 150 sedges native to Minnesota. This species is found principally in the southern half of the state and about half the counties in the northern half. In North America it is found from the central plains east to the coast in the U. S. and in Canada it is known in Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba.
Eastern Wood Sedge has not been reported on any Eloise Butler plant census but is present in the Woodland Garden.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"