The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Cattail Sedge


Scientific Name
Carex typhina Michx.


Plant Family
Sedge (Cyperaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Early Summer


Sedge Terms


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. Cattail Sedge is a warm season native perennial sedge forming tufts and clumps. The flowering stems (culms) are triangular in cross-section, 12 to 31 inches high, green in color, smooth. These rise from the rhizome, bases are reddish.

The leaf blades are mid-green in color, smooth, 4 to 8.7 mm wide and have 2 prominent ridges parallel to the central ridge, giving the blade a flattened W shape in cross-section. When these ridges are less prominent the blade is V shaped. The leaves usually rise higher than the stem height.

Leaf sheaths are light green, usually smooth, not fibrous, sheath fronts are membranous.

The inflorescence consists of a solitary stem with 2 to 4 spikes, erect, with the lateral spikes all pistillate (female) and the terminal spike gynecandrous, that is, with both staminate (male) and pistillate florets, the pistillate above and the staminate below them. The staminate portion is 4 to 11 mm long and the pistillate is oblong to elliptic in shape, 10 to 43 mm long. The inflorescence is subtended by a green bract that at least 3x longer than the inflorescence itself in this species. The bracts in the inflorescence is mostly sheath-less.

The perigynia are thin-walled, 8 to 12 veined, appressed to ascending on the spike, 5.5 to 7.8 mm long, smooth with an abrupt slender 2-toothed beak, usually sparingly rough. They appear inflated and are round in cross-section. (The bladder-like sacs that enclose the female flower and later the fruit are called perigynia, singular - perigynium). The style is straight and deciduous. Stigmas number 3. The scales on the perigynia are oblong in shape, 2.3 to 5.5 mm high and 1.2 to 1.7 mm wide. Tips can be sharp or blunt but they are hidden by the perigynia. Staminate scales are 4.2 to 5.8 mm long and 1.4 to 2 mm wide with tips the same as the pistillate. The perigynia are densely packed on the spikes.

Seed: Female flowers have 3 slender white stigmas and when mature form a 3-sided achene 2 to 3 mm long (1.2 to 1.9 times as long as wide). Florets are wind pollinated. Carex achenes usually require 60 days of cold stratification for germination - or sown outside in the Fall.


Habitat: Cattail Sedge is clump forming with short rhizomatous roots. It grows in floodplain forests, wet forests, swamps, marshes, sedge meadows and flats along rivers. Full to at least partial sun is needed and ample moisture - wet to wet-mesic conditions. Habitat degradation has led to great loss of this species through its range.

Names: The genus name, Carex, is from the Latin, being the old name for Sedges. The species, typhina, refers to 'resembling Typha', the Cattail genus, although some would dispute that the resemblance is that great. The name of the author for the plant classification, ‘Michx.’ refers to Andre Michaux (1746-1802), French botanist who made many exploring expeditions in the U.S. collecting and cataloging many species. Two important works of his are the Histoire des chênes de l'Amérique septentrionale (1801 - Oaks of North America), and the Flora Boreali-Americana (2 vols., 1803). His son Francois, traveled with him and the father’s notes were later used for the 3-volume North American Sylva, for which Thomas Nuttall provided some supplements. There is only one common name for this sedge in use today, unlike so many other sedges.

Comparisons: Of the sedges in the One-headed section known as the Squarrosae, the most similar to C. typhina with the terminal spike gynecandrous and the pistillate scales completely hidden by the perigynia is C. squarrosa the Squarrose Sedge, but in that species the style is persistent and sinuous, not deciduous and straight, the the lowest perigynia are widely radiating and the lower ones reflexed, and the achenes are 1.9 to 2.5 times as long as wide. The U of M Herbarium reports it for Minnesota but the DNR does not report it on the DNR county census.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Plant Drawing

Above: Cattail Sedge. 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: The lower short part of the top spike is staminate, the upper pistillate.

Upper spike Spike with male stamens Spike with perigynia

Below: Leaf blade and sheath detail.

leaf blade Sheath front Sheath back

Below: The stem bases are reddish-purple with short blades from the sheaths.

base sheaths

Below: Illustrations by Harry Charles Creutzburg from Kenneth Kent Mackenzie (1940) North American Cariceae



Cattail Sedge is one of over 150 sedges native to Minnesota. Due to habitat loss it is now only known in 5 counties in Minnesota along the river border with Wisconsin. It was listed on the State Special Concern List in 1996. In North America it is found in the eastern half of the continent including Texas and Oklahoma on the west side of the Mississippi River.

Cattail Sedge has not been noted in the Garden on any previous Garden Plant Census until just recently.

References and site links

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.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.