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. Crested Sedge is a native perennial densely tufted sedge commonly forming tussocks (or hummocks) in wet areas. The flowering stems (culms) grow 12 to 40 inches high, erect, slender, brown at the base. Both flowering and non-flowering (vegetative) stems are produced. Vegetative stems are notable for having leaves evenly spaced in the upper half of the stems.
The leaf sheaths are green and veined on the front nearly to the summit. There is a V shaped membranous (hyaline) band, 4 to 20 mm long, at the base of the collar. Basal sheaths are usually brown and blade-less. Ligules are 4 to 10 mm long.
The leaf blades are 3 to 7.5 mm wide and from 13 to 40 cm long (5 to 16 inches). There are 4 to 6 per flowering stem, vegetative stems have numerous leaves evenly spaced in the top half of the stem. Blades are V to M shaped when young, otherwise flat except for the prominent keel. There can be tufts of leaves at the base of stems.
The inflorescence is in racemose form and consists of 6 to 15 distinct spikes, usually all gynecandrous, that is with the staminate and pistillate florets on the same spike with the pistillate above. Usually the staminate portion of the spike is quite small and lower spikes may be all pistillate. These spikes are dense to somewhat open as the lower spikes may have internodes of 2 to 6 mm. The entire inflorescence is erect, from 2 to 4 cm long and 8 to 15 mm wide, with the spikes clustered to the tip of the stem. Each spike is globose in shape, about 4 to 8 mm long and of similar width, with a rounded to tapered base and and a rounded tip. The overall appearance is 'prickly' due to the spreading beaks of the perigynia. The bracts that form at the base of the lower spikes are scale-like with a bristle tip.
The perigynia are widely spreading to ascending, pale green to pale brown in color, ovate to elliptic in shape and 2.7 to 4 mm long and 1 to 1.7 mm wide (about 2 to 3.5 times as long as wide) flattened on one side, convex on the other. (The bladder-like sacs that enclose the female flower and later the fruit are called perigynia, singular - perigynium). The perigynium itself is 2 to 6 veined on the front side, 3 to 6 veined on the back side, flattened on the margin with a thin wing 0.1 to 0.2 mm wide that is wider in the upper part of the body and abruptly narrows toward the base but does not extend to the base. The upper body abruptly tapers to a stiff spreading beak. The beak tip usually lacks color and has rough margins or cilia. The lower perigynia on the lower spikes may spread to an angle of 80 degrees or more. The scales of the female spikes are white membranous to pale brown or paler, with a green to brown mid stripe that does not reach the top of the scale, shorter and narrower than the perigynia - about 1/2 the length - and also tapering to a pointed tip. As these scales are short, they are mostly hidden by the long beaks of the perigynia. There are two stigmas per flower, 3 stamens.
Seed: Mature fruit is a brown oblong-ovate shaped achene 1.2 to 1.5 mm long and 0.6 to 0.8 mm wide, much shorter than the perigynia, 0.3 to 0.4 mm thick. Florets are pollinated by the wind.
Habitat: Crested Sedge grows from a short rhizomatous root system forming dense tussocks, not colonies, in wet meadows, swales, ditches and wet prairies. The species handles wet to mesic moisture conditions, grows in full sun in wet conditions but grows also in partial sun to shade in wet-mesic to mesic areas.
Names: The genus name, Carex, is from the Latin, being the old name for Sedges. The species, cristatella, is from the Latin meaning 'with a small crest'. The author name for the plant classification - ‘Britton’ refers to Nathaniel Lord Britton (1859-1934) American botanist and taxonomist, co-founder of the New York Botanical Garden, Member of the Torrey Botanical Club, signatory of the American Code of Botanical Nomenclature and co-author with Addison Brown of Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada, and the British Possessions in 1896.
Comparisons: Crested Sedge is classified in the sedge section Ovales wherein the species form dense clumps from short-rhizomatous root systems, have gynecandrous terminal spikes and gynecandrous or pistillate lateral spikes on racemose inflorescences and have lower bracts scale or bristle-like. Perigynia are erect to spreading, usually smooth surfaces, tapering to or rounded to a beak with two short teeth and an abaxial suture. Achenes are smaller than the perigynia bodies, biconvex, with a small pointed tip from the residual style. Crested Sedge is mainly identified by the crowded globose shaped spikes, mature perigynia with spreading beaks and bodies reflexed downward at the base of the lower spikes; perigynia bodies with the wing abruptly narrowed below the middle and the many spreading leaves on the non-flowering stems. The most common mis-identification is with C. bebbii, Bebb's Sedge when the plants are immature. It is also similar to C. scoparia, Broom Sedge, but there the leaves are only 1.4 to 3 mm wide and the inflorescence is more compact and clustered at the tip of the raceme.
Above: Maturing spikes. 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: 1st photo - immature spikes, photo courtesy Doug Goldman, USDA-NRCS Plants Database. 2nd photo - the brown bases of the stems. 3rd photo - leaf sheath.
Below: 1st photo - side view of sheath. 2d photo - leaf blade with prominent keel.
Below: Mature perigynia showing the flattened wing around the achene, tapering toward, but not beyond, the base, wider above the achene and then tapering to the beak.
Crested Sedge is one of over 150 sedges native to Minnesota. It is found in most counties in Minnesota with the exceptions in the SW quadrant and in the western section of the state. In North America it is found from the central plains eastward, excepting the southern tier of states of the U.S. and the maritime provinces of Canada.
Crested Sedge has been listed on both the 1986 and 2009 Garden Census.
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.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"