What is a Sedge?

Sedge Meadow in Spring

Tussock Sedge (Carex stricta).  This sedge has edges.

A sedge is a grass-like plant (graminoid) in the sedge family (Cyperaceae).  Most would look down the sedges while walking through the woods or a wetland and just think they are grasses.  While they fill much the same ecological role as the true grasses (Poaceae/Gramineae) they are botanically unique.

One thing that most people learn about sedges is the saying “sedges have edges” This refers to the triangular shaped stems of many of the sedge species.  If you roll the base of the majority of the sedge species, particularly the Carex and Cyperus, between your fingers you feel the edges plainly.  If you were to cut the stem in cross-section you would notice the triangular shape.

There are many exceptions to the rule.  Most importantly there are other plants like Common Bur reed, and Sweet Flag have triangular stems that are not in the sedge family.  Then there are those species like softstem bulrush that have perfectly round stems.  Beware the “sedges have edges saying.”

Hardstem Bulrush Beds

Hardstem bulrushes (Schoenoplectus acutus).  This member of the sedge family  (Cyperaceae) has round stems.

The flowers and seed of sedges differ from the grasses, and I would refer you to any good botany book for more information and detailed drawings.   For wetland plants of the Midwest I would recommend A Great Lakes Wetland Flora.

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