Elk Sedge

Carex garberi Fern.

Carex garberi
Troy Weldy

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?

Carex garberi is named for Abraham Pascal Garber (1838-1881) who discovered this plant in Erie County, Pennsylvania (Fernald 1935). When mature, its fruits are white unlike many other Carex species (Ball 2002).

State Ranking Justification

There are only two known populations and ten historical locations for this sedge that is often confused with Carex aurea. These known populations are restricted to the Niagara River Basin and may be threatened by invasive species and alternations to the landscape (including natural erosion and scraping of the cliffs for safety concerns).

Short-term Trends

At one of the extant populations there has been hundreds of plants present for the past 20 years. The other extant population has only been surveyed once. One population appears to be extirpated although no voucher specimen exists for this population and it may have been misidentified originally. All other populations are only known from historical records. Therefore, short term trends are not definitive but appear to indicate stable to declining populations.

Long-term Trends

There are at least six historical populations that have not been seen in at least 25 years. Surveys to these populations have not been done and it is unknown if they are still extant. One population appears to have become extirpated but it is unknown if this population was misidentified originally. One of the extant populations has been present for at least 140 years. Overall, long term trends are not clear but indicate at least a small decline in populations.

Conservation and Management


There are two extant populations. Both of these are potentially threatened by invasive species and alteration of the habitat (such as scraping of the cliffs for safety concerns and natural erosion). Trampling and mowing may be a problem at one of the extant populations although, these impacts may be small.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

At the extant populations invasive species should be monitored and controlled if they appear to be negatively impacting the populations. All human created disturbances should be minimized.

Research Needs

All voucher specimens should be verified as some may be misidentified. Survey are needed to historical populations.



Carex garberi occurs on calcareous rocks and soils near edges of large rivers. It also occurs on limestone pavements and in fens. It grows in small rivulets and in more open areas. Soils are moist to saturated and can be periodically flooded (New York Natural Heritage Program 2006). Moist shores, meadows, fens, on base-rich soils (Ball 2002). Sandy swales and calcareous gravels (Rhoads and Block 2000). Calcareous sands, gravels, and ledges, especially near the Great Lakes (Fernald 1970).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Alvar pavement grassland* (guide)
    This community consists of exposed, flat limestone or dolostone pavement with grassy or mossy patches interspersed throughout. Some examples may be solely grassland with no pavement.
  • Calcareous cliff community (guide)
    A community that occurs on vertical exposures of resistant, calcareous bedrock (such as limestone or dolomite) or consolidated material; these cliffs often include ledges and small areas of talus.
  • Calcareous shoreline outcrop (guide)
    A community that occurs along the shores of lakes and streams on outcrops of calcareous rocks such as limestone and dolomite. The vegetation is sparse; most plants are rooted in rock crevices.
  • Cobble shore wet meadow* (guide)
    A community that occurs on the cobble shores of lakes and streams where the substrate is moist from seepage or intermittent flooding. These communities are likely to be scoured by floods or winter ice floes, but there is apparently no significant accumulation of pack ice.
  • Rich graminoid fen* (guide)
    A wetland of mostly grasses usually fed by water from highly calcareous springs or seepage. These waters have high concentrations of minerals and high pH values, generally from 6.0 to 7.8. Plant remains do not decompose rapidly and these grasses usually grow on older, undecomposed plant parts.
  • Rich sloping fen* (guide)
    A small, gently sloping wetland that occurs in a shallow depression on a slope composed of calcareous glacial deposits. Sloping fens are fed by small springs or groundwater seepage. Like other rich fens, their water sources have high concentrations of minerals and high pH values, generally from 6.0 to 7.8. They often have water flowing at the surface in small channels or rivulets.
  • Riverside ice meadow* (guide)
    A meadow community that occurs on gently sloping cobble shores and rock outcrops along large rivers in areas where winter ice floes are pushed up onto the shore, forming an ice pack that remains until late spring. The ice scours the meadow, cutting back woody plants.

* probable association but not confirmed.

Associated Species

  • Campanula rotundifolia (hare-bell)
  • Lobelia siphilitica
  • Thuja occidentalis (northern white cedar, arbor vitae)
  • Toxicodendron radicans


New York State Distribution

Carex garberi occurs from western to north central to northern New York in disjunct isolated populations. Many of these populations are historical and the plants from these locales may be misidentified. It is confirmed from at least extreme western New York.

Global Distribution

Carex garberi occurs from Alaska east to Nunavut, Quebec, and New Brunswick south to California, Utah, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

Identification Comments

General Description

Carex garberi is a tufted grass-like perennial. Its leaves are 1.0-3.5 mm wide. Arising from the bases of the plants are stems 5-40 cm tall. These main stems are terminated by a cluster of flowers/fruits. The upper flowers are female and the lower are male. Female flowers / fruits also occur at the tips of secondary stems which attach to the main stems. Mature fruits are white and 2-3 mm long (Ball 2002).

Identifying Characteristics

Carex garberi is a loosely cespitose perennial. Its leaves are 1-2.5(-3.5) mm long and its culms are 5-40 cm long. Proximal spikes are separate while the distal ones are approximate. Lateral spikes are pistillate and the perigynia are relatively densely arranged in these spikes. Internodes in the middle of these spikes are 0.3-0.7 mm long. Terminal spikes are gynecandrous with at least 1/3 of the flowers staminate. The terminal spikes are rarely entirely staminate. Pistillate scales are brown with a paler midvein and hyaline margins. The apices are obtuse to acute. Perigynia are white at maturity and 2-3 mm long (Ball 2002).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Mature fruits do not turn bright orange in C. garberi unlike the similar C. aurea. Therefore, the easiest time to id this speces is when it is in mature fruit but before the fruits have fallen.

Similar Species

Carex aurea is the only other species that occurs in NY that is similar to C. garberi. It has been misidentified in the past as C. garberi. When the perigynia are mature they are strikingly different and perigynia color is the most reliable character distinguishing these two species. Perigynia of C. aurea are bright orange (although they dry brown) vs. white for C. garberi. Additionally, Carex aurea has terminal spikes staminate to occasionally gynecandrous and middle internodes of lateral spikes (0.5-)0.7-1.5 mm long vs. terminal spikes gynecandrous to rarely entirely staminate and middle internodes of lateral spikes 0.3-0.7 mm long for C. garberi (Ball 2002). Fernald (1935) also uses the more prolonged bract blades and longer more often acuminate pistillate scales of C. aurea to separate these two species. When the fruits are immature they are difficult to separate reliably.

Best Time to See

The species starts to fruit in early June and the fruits become mature by late June. Therefore, the best time to survey for Carex garberi is mid to late June.

  • Fruiting

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

Elk Sedge Images


Elk Sedge
Carex garberi Fern.

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

Additional Common Names

  • Sedge


  • Carex aurea var. androgyna Olney
  • Carex bicolor Bellardi ex All. [misapplied]
  • Carex garberi ssp. bifaria (Fern.) Hulten
  • Carex garberi var. bifaria Fern.
  • Carex hassei Bailey [misapplied]

Comments on the Classification

Carex garberi is in section Bicolores (Ball 2002). It was originally described as C. aurea var. androgyna in 1871 and raised to the species level as C. garberi in 1935 (Fernald 1935). Some authors including Mackenzie (1931-1935) have lumped C. garberi under C. hassei. Carex hassei sensu stricto is a western North American species. Carex garberi and C. hassei are currently accepted as distinct in Flora of North America (Ball 2002). In New York, the names C. aurea, C. bicolor, and C. hassei have been misapplied to C. garberi (Zenkert 1934, New York Natural Heritage Program 2006). Carex bicolor and C. hassei do not occur in New York while C. aurea does (Ball 2002). Carex aurea is much more common in New York than C. garberi and can be difficult to distinguish from it when immature (Fernald 1935).

Additional Resources

Best Identification Reference

Ball, P.W. 2002. Carex Linnaeus sect. Bicolores (Tuckerman ex L.H. Bailey) Rouy. Pages 424-426 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. 1935. Critical plants of the upper Great Lakes region of Ontario and Michigan. Rhodora 37(438): 197-222.

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

Gleason, Henry A. 1952. The New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Canada.

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. 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.

Rhoads, Ann F. and Timothy A. Block. 2000. The Plants of Pennsylvania, an Illustrated Manual. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA.

Voss, E.G. 1972. Michigan Flora, Part I. Gymnosperms and Monocots. Cranbrook Institute of Science Bulletin 55 and the University of Michigan Herbarium. Ann Arbor. 488 pp.

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 http://www.fccdr.usf.edu/. University of South Florida http://www.usf.edu/]. New York Flora Association http://newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu/, Albany, New York

Zenkert, Charles A. 1934. The Flora of the Niagara Frontier Region. Bulletin of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, Vol 16. Buffalo, NY. 328 Pp.


About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: May 31, 2006

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Carex garberi. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/elk-sedge/. Accessed June 21, 2024.