Cat-tail Sedge

Carex typhina Michx.

Carex typhina 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
Imperiled in New York - Very vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to rarity or other factors; typically 6 to 20 populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or 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 typhina refers to cat-tails (Fernald 1970) perhaps due to the resemblance of the spikes of Carex typhina to the spikes of cat-tails (the plant not Whiskers).

State Ranking Justification

There are six known populations but only one has more than a hundred plants. Twenty-two historical locations need additional surveys. One may jump to the conclusion that this sedge is overlooked, however, it appears to be rare throughout the northeastern U.S. and adjacent Canada. This plant is typically found as small populations within wet woods and may be subject to hydrological changes, invasive species, or land-use changes.

Short-term Trends

Most of the populations that have been observed within the past 20 years have only been surveyed once so the short term trends are unknown.

Long-term Trends

There are at least 9 populations (mostly from Queens, Bronx, and Kings Counties) that are believed to be extirpated mostly due to urban development. An additional 10 populations have not been seen in over 50 years but these populations have not been looked for or the location information is not precise so it is unclear if these populations are still extant. There are 8 extant populations most of which have only recently been found. As with many Carex species these populations were probably overlooked in the past. Over the long term Carex typhina appears to be declining in New York.

Conservation and Management


Potential threats include invasive species, residential and commercial development, trampling, and road work.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Coordination with the DEC at one site is needed to protect a population. At this site the population is close to a parking area and needs to be protected from trampling. In addition, work on the parking lot or adjacent road should be done with awareness of the need to maintain the hydrology as well as not directly cause the extirpation of the population.

Other management needs include monitoring logging operations and monitoring an adjacent development project.

Research Needs

Further inventory work is needed at historical sites. In addition, follow up at extant sites will be helpful to fully asses these populations and how they may be changing.



Carex typhina occurs in floodplain forests, vernal pools in forests, wet forests, swamps, marshes, sedge dominated meadows, and flats along rivers (New York Natural Heritage Program 2005). Wet woods (Ford and Reznicek 2002). Moist or wet woods and marshes (Gleason & Cronquist 1991). Calcareous meadows and wooded bottomlands (Fernald 1970).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Floodplain forest (guide)
    A hardwood forest that occurs on mineral soils on low terraces of river floodplains and river deltas. These sites are characterized by their flood regime; low areas are annually flooded in spring, and high areas are flooded irregularly.
  • Red maple-hardwood swamp* (guide)
    A hardwood swamp that occurs in poorly drained depressions, usually on inorganic soils. Red maple is usually the most abundant canopy tree, but it can also be codominant with white, green, or black ash; white or slippery elm; yellow birch; and swamp white oak.
  • Shallow emergent marsh* (guide)
    A marsh meadow community that occurs on soils that are permanently saturated and seasonally flooded. This marsh is better drained than a deep emergent marsh; water depths may range from 6 in to 3.3 ft (15 cm to 1 m) during flood stages, but the water level usually drops by mid to late summer and the soil is exposed during an average year.
  • Silver maple-ash swamp (guide)
    A hardwood basin swamp that typically occurs in poorly-drained depressions or along the borders of large lakes, and less frequently in poorly drained soils along rivers. These sites are characterized by uniformly wet conditions with minimal seasonal fluctuations in water levels. The dominant trees are usually silver maple and green ash.
  • Vernal pool (guide)
    An aquatic community of one or more intermittently ponded, small, shallow depressions typically within an upland forest. Vernal pools are typically flooded in spring or after a heavy rainfall, but are usually dry during summer. Substrate is typically dense leaf litter over hydric soils. Vernal pools typically occupy a confined basin (i.e., a standing waterbody without a flowing outlet), but may have an intermittent stream flowing out of it during high water. This community includes a diverse group of invertebrates and amphibians that depend upon temporary pools as breeding habitat. These include amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans, mollusks, annelids, and insects.

* probable association but not confirmed.

Associated Species

  • Acer rubrum
  • Acer saccharinum (silver maple)
  • Carex grayi (Gray's sedge)
  • Carex lupuliformis (false hop sedge)
  • Carex lupulina (hop sedge)
  • Carex tuckermanii (Tuckerman's sedge)
  • Cephalanthus occidentalis (buttonbush)
  • Decodon verticillatus (water-willow)
  • Fraxinus pennsylvanica (green ash)
  • Lindera benzoin (spicebush)
  • Nyssa sylvatica (black-gum, sour-gum)
  • Onoclea sensibilis (sensitive fern)
  • Osmunda cinnamomea
  • Polygonum douglasii (Douglas's knotweed)
  • Quercus palustris (pin oak)


New York State Distribution

Carex typhina occurs scattered throughout most of New York although it is mostly restricted to the southern and eastern fringes of the state. Most of the C. typhina populations are or were formally known from southeastern New York, including Long Island. Carex typhina also occurs in a few of the southern most counties in central and western New York although the western most population is believed to have been extirpated. There is one report from northern central New York. It also occurs in the northeastern part of the state in the Champlain valley. Carex typhina is near the northern boundary of its range in New York.

Global Distribution

Carex typhina occurs from Maine west to Quebec, NY, Ontario, and Wisconsin south to Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas (Ford and Reznicek 2002).

Identification Comments

General Description

Carex typhina is a tufted, perennial, grass-like plant. It has strap-like leaves that are 3.9-8.7 mm wide. Arising from the leaves at the bases of the plants are stems that are 30-80 cm tall. Leaves and secondary branches with flower/fruit clusters occur on the main stems. The fruit clusters are erect with the fruits densely crowded. Fruits are 5.5-7.8 mm long (Ford & Reznicek 2002).

Identifying Characteristics

Carex typhina is a cespitose perennial. The leaves are glabrous and 3.9-8.7 mm wide. There are (0-)1-3(-5) lateral pistillate spikes which are 1.5-5 cm long. The terminal spike is gynecandrous. Pistillate scales do not have awns and are shorter than the body of the perigynia. Perigynia are appressed to ascending, 5.5-7.8 mm long with a sparsely scabrous beak. Achenes are 1.2-1.9 times as long as wide. Styles are deciduous and straight (Fernald 1970, Ford & Reznicek 2002).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Carex typhina is easiest to identify when the perigynia are just immature or mature but not yet shedding heavily.

Similar Species

Carex squarrosa is somewhat similar. It differs in having 1-2(-3) spikes (including the terminal one), lower perigynia spreading to reflexed, styles persistent and curved, and achenes 1.9-2.5 times as long as wide.

Carex frankii (which is rare in NY) is also somewhat similar to C. typhina. Carex frankii has the terminal spikes usually staminate although they can be gynecandrous, pistillate, or abortive. In addition, C. frankii has pistillate scales with long awns that are larger than the body of the perigynia (Ford & Reznicek 2002).

Best Time to See

The plants start to go to fruit in late June and the fruits persist on the plants through at least mid October but toward the end of this season they are shedding heavily. Early on in this season the fruits are quite immature. So, surveys are most successful from mid-July till mid-September. Adjustments should be made depending on where in the state surveys are being conducted.

  • Fruiting

The time of year you would expect to find Cat-tail Sedge fruiting in New York.

Cat-tail Sedge Images

Images of Similar Species


Cat-tail Sedge
Carex typhina Michx.

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

Additional Common Names

  • Sedge


  • Carex typhinoides Schwein.

Comments on the Classification

Carex typhina is in section Squarrosae. There is a hybrid C. x deamii F. J. Hermann which was considered to be a cross between C. typhina and C. shortiana. Current evidence is instead leaning toward this hybrid being a cross between C. squarrosa and C. shortiana (Cochrane 2002, Ford & Reznicek 2002).

Additional Resources

Best Identification Reference

Ford, B. A. and A.A. Reznicek. 2002. Carex Linnaeus sect. Squarrosae J. Carey. Pages 518-519 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

Cochrane, T.S. 2002. Carex Linnaeus sect. Shortianae (L.H. Bailey) Mackenzie. Page 520 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.

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.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2010. Biotics database. New York Natural Heritage Program. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY.

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.

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: June 1, 2021

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Carex typhina. Available from: Accessed June 21, 2024.