Few-flowered Nutrush

Scleria pauciflora var. caroliniana (Willd.) Wood

Scleria pauciflora var. caroliniana
Stephen M. Young

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
Apparently or Demonstrably Secure globally - The subspecies/variety is uncommon to common in the world, but not rare; usually widespread, but may be rare in some parts of its range; possibly some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors. More information is needed to assign either T4 or T5. (The species as a whole is common globally.)


Did you know?

This species is most common in Virginia and the Carolinas (the Biota of North America website). Its species name means few-flowered (Fernald 1950).

State Ranking Justification

There are four existing populations which are very small. Two of them occur in protected areas but none of them are actively managed. There are six historical populations from the late 1800s to 1950 that need to be checked to see if they still exist. There are five populations which no longer exist because the area has been developed.

Short-term Trends

The short-term population trend appears stable, but more survey work is needed to determine this.

Long-term Trends

The long-term trend is strongly negative. Plants have been in severe decline over the last 100 years as their habitats on Long Island have been lost to development.

Conservation and Management


Loss of open-canopied conditions the grassland habitat due to the succession of shrubs may be a threat.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Disturbance regimes should maintain the open grassland habitat of these plants.

Research Needs

Propagation studies need to be done to see if populations can be augmented. The proper disturbance regime should be studied to maximize population numbers.



The plant can be found among other wildflowers and grasses in disturbed open grasslands and along sand roads within pitch pine-oak forest or pitch pine scrub oak barrens. One population is in a cleared area around the margin of a pond. Historical records also occurred in Hempstead Plains grasslands (New York Natural Heritage Program 2012). Dry to mostly wet pinelands, mesic woods, meadows, bogs (FNA 2002). Damp or dry, sandy or sterile soil (Gleason and Cronquist 1991).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Pitch pine-oak forest (guide)
    A mixed forest that typically occurs on well-drained, sandy soils of glacial outwash plains or moraines; it also occurs on thin, rocky soils of ridgetops. The dominant trees are pitch pine mixed with one or more of the following oaks: scarlet oak, white oak, red oak, or black oak.
  • Pitch pine-scrub oak barrens (guide)
    A shrub-savanna community that occurs on well-drained, sandy soils that have developed on sand dunes, glacial till, and outwash plains.

Associated Species

  • Agalinis acuta
  • Aletris farinosa (white colicroot, unicorn-root)
  • Desmodium
  • Eupatorium hyssopifolium (hyssop-leaved thoroughwort)
  • Lechea
  • Lespedeza
  • Linum intercursum (sandplain wild flax, Bicknell's yellow flax)
  • Lobelia nuttallii (Nuttall's lobelia)
  • Myrica pensylvanica
  • Panicum virgatum (switch grass)
  • Rubus
  • Schizachyrium scoparium
  • Sisyrinchium
  • Solidago nemoralis
  • Trichostema dichotomum (blue-curls)
  • Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry)
  • Viola sagittata


New York State Distribution

This small sedge occurs in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, Long Island. It is considered extirpated from Queens. There are historical records from areas north of New York City in Westchester and Dutchess counties.

Global Distribution

This is common in the Southern states from eastern Oklahoma and eastern Texas east through North Carolina and Virginia. There are scattered populations north into Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan and also up the East Coast from Maryland to eastern Massachusetts. It is mostly absent from eastern Georgia and the peninsula of Florida.

Identification Comments

General Description

Scleria is a genus of sedge with 3-angled culms, dimorphic spikelets, and conspicuous white achenes. Few-flowered nut-rush is an erect, very hairy plant that grows 2-5 dm tall from clustered and elongate rhizomes. The leaves are 1-3 mm wide and very hairy, with hairs from 0.5-1 mm long. The spikelet clusters are usually terminal, solitary and sessile although, there can be another one or two clusters below on short peduncles. Each cluster has 1-7 spikelets. A long narrow leaf-like bract grows up from below the inflorescence from 2-5 mm long. Flower scales are ovate and very long pointed. The achene is white, rounded, 1-2.5 mm in diameter with a rough surface. It has a small point on the top and 6 rounded tubercles at the base (FNA 2002).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

This species is best identified in fruit.

Similar Species

The other six taxa of Scleria in New York all occur within the range of Scleria pauciflora var. caroliniana and are best differentiated in fruit. Scleria pauciflora var. pauciflora is different only in its hairiness. Variety caroliniana is very hairy but variety pauciflora is hairless or somewhat hairy and its hairs are less than 0.5 mm long. Scleria triglomerata and Scleria minor have smooth achenes without distinct lobes or tubercles below, only a disk with whitish to brownish papillae. Scleria reticularis and Scleria m├╝hlenbergii have rough achenes with 3, not 6, oblong lobes at the base and their flower clusters are more open paniculate with visible branches. Scleria verticillata has no disk or lobes at the base of the achene and the plants are annual and lacking rhizomes (FNA 2002).

  • Fruiting

The time of year you would expect to find Few-flowered Nutrush fruiting in New York.

Few-flowered Nutrush Images


Few-flowered Nutrush
Scleria pauciflora var. caroliniana (Willd.) Wood

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

Additional Common Names

  • Nutrush
  • Whipgrass

Additional Resources

Best Identification Reference

Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 2002. Flora of North America, North of Mexico. Volume 23. Magnoliophyta: Commelinidae (in part): Cyperaceae. Oxford University Press, New York. 608 pp.

Other References

Fernald, M. L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. Corrected printing (1970). D. Van Nostrand Company, 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.

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


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Stephen M. Young

Information for this guide was last updated on: September 6, 2012

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Scleria pauciflora var. caroliniana. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/few-flowered-nutrush/. Accessed May 26, 2024.