Carolina Sedge

Carex caroliniana Schwein.

Carex caroliniana line drawing
Britton, N.L., and A. Brown (1913); downloaded from USDA-Plants Database.

Monocotyledoneae (Monocots)
Cyperaceae (Sedge Family)
State Protection
Listed as Endangered by New York State: in imminent danger of extirpation in New York. For animals, taking, importation, transportation, or possession is prohibited, except under license or permit. For plants, removal or damage without the consent of the landowner is prohibited.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Critically Imperiled in New York - Especially vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to extreme rarity or other factors; typically 5 or fewer populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, very few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or very steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Secure globally - Common in the world; widespread and abundant (but may be rare in some parts of its range).


Did you know?

The specific epithet caroliniana means of Carolina (Fernald 1970). The locality information for the dried plant specimen that this species is based on (the type locality) is "Carol." Reverend Lewis D. De Schweinitz named this species caroliniana in an article in 1824 (Schweinitz 1824). He also named other species in this same article which have the same type locality, but this is the only one given the epithet caroliniana. So, perhaps it is more than the type locality that determined why Schweinitz named this species caroliniana.

State Ranking Justification

There is one extant occurrence and three historical locations have been document. The two from Long Island are considered extirpated and the one located near Allegany State Park needs additional survey effort. Flora of North America does not include New York as part of these species range, but it does include Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The northern limit is apparently southeastern New York and the Southern Tier. There is a possibility this plant has been overlooked, but all records should be compared to more common similar looking sedges.

Short-term Trends

Short term trends are unknown.

Long-term Trends

Two populations have apparently been extirpated by urbanization. A third population is known only from one historical collection made in 1957. This population has not been looked for in recent years at it is unknown if it is still extant. Overall, this species is clearly declining in New York.

Conservation and Management


There are currently no known threats to C. caroliniana in New York.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

No management is currently needed for C. caroliniana in New York.

Research Needs

The Queens County records should be verified.



Carex caroliniana is known from a dry old field and a cemetery in New York (New York Natural Heritage Program 2006). Forests (Weakley 2006). Ditches, shores (Ball 2002). Dry woods and meadows (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). Low woods, bottomlands, meadows, etc. (Fernald 1970). Dry meadows (Mackenzie 1931-1935).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Appalachian oak-hickory forest* (guide)
    A hardwood forest that occurs on well-drained sites, usually on ridgetops, upper slopes, or south- and west-facing slopes. The soils are usually loams or sandy loams. This is a broadly defined forest community with several regional and edaphic variants. The dominant trees include red oak, white oak, and/or black oak. Mixed with the oaks, usually at lower densities, are pignut, shagbark, and/or sweet pignut hickory.
  • Appalachian oak-pine forest* (guide)
    A mixed forest that occurs on sandy soils, sandy ravines in pine barrens, or on slopes with rocky soils that are well-drained. The canopy is dominated by a mixture of oaks and pines.
  • Successional old field
    A meadow dominated by forbs and grasses that occurs on sites that have been cleared and plowed (for farming or development), and then abandoned or only occasionally mowed.

* probable association but not confirmed.


New York State Distribution

In New York, C. caroliniana is known (at least historically) from Queens County in the New York City area and from Cattaraugus County in southwestern New York. The populations in Queens County are believed extirpated due to urbanization. The Queens County occurrences are based on two plant specimens, one at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (BKL) and the other at the New York Botanical Garden (New York). One of the specimens from Queens County is from "Aqueduct" and may actually have been from Nassau County. The Cattaraugus County record is based on a report of a specimen at the New York State Museum (New York State). In 1998, no specimens could be found of C. caroliniana at New York State, for New York and it is unknown if the alleged specimen was annotated to another species or is simply missing. Most major treatments of C. caroliniana including Mackenzie (1931-1935), Fernald (1970), Gleason and Cronquist (1991), and Ball (2002) do not include New York in the range of the species.

Global Distribution

Carex caroliniana is known from New York and New Jersey south to Georgia and west to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Indiana (Ball 2002, New York Natural Hertiage Program 2006).

Identification Comments

General Description

Carolina sedge is a tufted grass-like perennial. The leaves are strap-like, 1.5-4.0 mm wide, and hairy or the hairs shed as the plant matures. Stems are 25-80 cm tall and have hairs that shed as the plant matures. Towards the apex of the stems are usually 3 cylindrical flower/fruit clusters (spikes). These spikes are closely arranged. The terminal spike is composed of female flowers above and male flowers below. The other spikes are composed entirely of female flowers and are 7-18 mm long. The female flowers mature into fruits (perigynia) which are round in cross section, 2.1-3.0 mm long, and are not or only slightly hairy (Mackenzie 1931-1935, Ball 2002).

Identifying Characteristics

Carex caroliniana is cespitose and short-rhizomatous. Leaf sheaths are pilose and blades are glabrescent or pilose abaxially and/or proximally. Culms are 25-80 cm long. The terminal spike is gynecandrous with at least half of the flowers pistillate. The lateral spikes are sessile or short pedunculate, pistillate, erect, usually approximate, and 7-18 mm long. Pistillate scales are shorter than the perigynia and acute to acuminate at the apex. Perigynia are sub-orbicular in cross section, glabrous to sparsely pilose, 2.1-3.0 mm long, and spread in the spikes (Mackenzie 1931-1935, Ball 2002).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

It is easiest to identify C. caroliniana when it has mature or just immature perigynia. Full plants with leaf blades and sheaths are usefull in identifying this species and should be collected.

Similar Species

Carex caroliniana is superficially similar to a few other members of section Porocystis that occur in New York.

Carex swanii and C. virescens differ in having ligules that are longer than wide and perigynia ascending, densely pilose, and compressed trigonous in cross-section. In comparison, C. caroliniana has ligules that are as long as or shorter than wide and perigynia spreading, glabrous to sparsely pilose, and sub-orbicular in cross section.

Carex hirsutella differs in having perigynia ascending and flattened, leaf blades pilose on both surfaces, and culms pilose. In comparison, C. caroliniana has perigynia spreading and sub-orbicular in cross-section, leaf blades glabrescent or pilose abaxially and/or proximally, and culms glabrescent.

Carex bushii differs in having leaf blades pilose; perigynia papillose, pubescent, and 2.5-4.0 mm long; pistillate scales with an awn 0.5-2.0 mm long; and lateral spikes 4.5-11.0 mm wide. In comparison, C. caroliniana has leaf blades glabrescent or pilose abaxially and/or proximally; perigynia not-papillose, glabrous or sparsely pilose, and 2.1-3.0 mm long; pistillate scales without an awn or at most short cuspidate; and lateral spikes 3.5-5.0 mm long.

Best Time to See

Immature perigynia start to form in mid-June. These mature and persist into August or perhaps a little later. Towards the end of this season the perigynia are shedding easily. Therefore, the best time to survey for this species is from late June through early August.

  • Fruiting

The time of year you would expect to find Carolina Sedge fruiting in New York.

Carolina Sedge Images


Carolina Sedge
Carex caroliniana Schwein.

  • Kingdom Plantae
    • Phylum Anthophyta
      • Class Monocotyledoneae (Monocots)
        • Order Cyperales
          • Family Cyperaceae (Sedge Family)

Additional Common Names

  • Sedge

Comments on the Classification

Carex caroliniana is in section Porocystis. It had formerly been placed in section Virescentes but Porocystis is an older name (Mackenzie 1931-1935, Ball 2002). In New York, section Porocystis also contains the common C. hirsutella, C. swanii, C. virescens, and C. pallescens as well as the less common C. bushii.

Additional Resources

Best Identification Reference

Ball, P.W. 2002. Carex Linnaeus sect. Porocystis Dumortier. Pages 482-485 in Flora of North America Editorial Committee (editors), Flora of North America, north of Mexico, Volume 23, Magnoliophyta: Commelinidae (in part): Cyperaceae. Oxford University Press, New York, New York, USA. 608pp + xxiv.

Other References

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. D. Van Nostrand, New York. 1632 pp.

Gleason, Henry A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. 910 pp.

Holmgren, Noel. 1998. The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Mackenzie, K.K. 1931-1935. Cariceae. North American Flora 18: 1-478.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY. 96 pp. plus xi.

Schweinitz, L. 1824. An analytical table to facilitate the determination of the hitherto observed North American species of the genus Carex. Annals of the Lyceum of natural history of New York. 1: 62-71.

Weakley, A.S. 2006. Flora of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia. Working draft of January 17, 2006. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC. 1026pp. Currently published by the author and available on the web at (

Weldy, T. and D. Werier. 2010. New York flora atlas. [S.M. Landry, K.N. Campbell, and L.D. Mabe (original application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research University of South Florida]. New York Flora Association, Albany, New York


About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: May 21, 2006

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Carex caroliniana. Available from: Accessed February 26, 2024.