Hair-like Sedge

Carex capillaris L.

Carex capillaris
Steven Daniel

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 capillaris means hair like (Fernald 1970) which is probably in reference to the narrow culms and perhaps the relatively narrow leaves.

State Ranking Justification

Only known from a single site in the Hudson River Gorge of Hamilton County with two additional historical sites in Cortland County and one in Onondaga County. Little information is known about any of these sites so more information is needed; however, it does seem clear that this plant was always rare within New York.

Short-term Trends

Only one population has been seen in recent years. This population has only been surveyed once and trends are unknown. The exact extent and size of this population is unknown although there are at least 20 plants present. Therefore, short term trends are unknown.

Long-term Trends

There are about three populations that are only known from historical records. Two of these populations appear to have been extirpated before the early 1900's. One was extirpated when work was done in the wetlands that provide water to the city of Cortland. The cause of extirpation at the other site is unknown. One populations was only recently discovered. This populations was probably overlooked in the past. Overall, it appears that C. capillaris has declined over the long term in New York.

Conservation and Management


There are currently no known threats to populations of C. capillaris in New York.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

No management is currently needed for Carex capillaris in New York.

Research Needs

The full extent of the one known population of C. capillaris needs to be determined by survey work. Historical records of C. capillaris from central New York should be verified and all populations that may still be extant should be searched for.



Carex capillaris occurs on calcareous wet sand at the top of talus slopes and on ledges at the base of cliffs. It also occurs on floating and submerged logs at the edge of marl ponds and calcareous streams (New York Natural Heritage Program 2006). Mesic to moist tundra, seeps of cliffs, rocks, and slopes, fens, meadows, shores, prairie sloughs, edges of sphagnum mats, moist woods (Ball 2002). Streambanks, wet meadows, and wet ledges (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). Moist, often calcareous and/or sandy ground at edges of conifer (especially cedar and fir) woods and thickets. Also along roads, trails, clearings, and similar openings - even on mossy logs in rivers and streams - through such woods and boggy ground. Rock shores (Voss 1972). Damp, springy or mossy calcareous woods, thickets, shores and wooded swamps. Exposed mostly calcareous habitats (Fernald 1970). Mossy and gravelly calcareous shores and springs. On half-submerged and decaying logs (Wiegand and Eames 1926).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • 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.
  • Calcareous talus slope woodland* (guide)
    An open or closed canopy community that occurs on talus slopes composed of calcareous bedrock such as limestone or dolomite. The soils are usually moist and loamy; there may be numerous rock outcrops.
  • 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.
  • Ice cave talus community* (guide)
    A community that occurs on rocks and soil at the base of slopes of loose rocks (often below cliffs; these are talus slopes) that emit cold air. The emission of cold air results from air circulation among the rocks of the talus slope where winter ice remains through the summer. The vegetation is distinctive because it includes species characteristic of climates much cooler than the climate of the area where the ice caves occur.
  • Inland calcareous lake shore* (guide)
    The gravelly, sandy, or muddy shore of an inland lake or pond with calcareous water and seasonally fluctuating water levels. There may be few plants and those that are present are usually herbaceous.
  • Marl pond shore (guide)
    The marly shore of an inland pond. Marl is a whitish substance that is deposited from water that has a lot of calcium dissolved in it. The whitish substance is calcium carbonate, people used to harvest marl to lime agricultural fields. Water levels of marl pond shores may fluctuate seasonally. There are usually only a few plants.
  • 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.

* probable association but not confirmed.


New York State Distribution

Carex capillaris is known (at least historically) from a few populations in central New York and one population in northern New York along the Hudson River gorge. New York is at the southern edge of its range in the east.

Global Distribution

Carex capillaris occurs in North America and northern Eurasia. In North America, it is known from Alaska east to Nunavut and Greenland south to New Hampshire, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and California. In the west it is mostly in the mountains (Ball 2002).

Identification Comments

General Description

Hair-like sedge is a densely tufted grass-like plant. Leaves are 0.75-4 mm wide and flat. Stems are very slender and are up to 60 cm long. The apex of the stem is terminated by a narrowly cylindrical cluster of male flowers 4-10 mm long. Towards the apex of the stem are 2-3 slender secondary branches that are terminated by cylindrical clusters of female flowers/fruits (spikes). The lower secondary branches and associated spikes droop. The female flowers mature into fruits (perigynia) which are 2.3-3.5 mm long and taper to a beak at their apex (Mackenzie 1931-1935, Ball 2002).

Identifying Characteristics

Carex capillaris is densely cespitose and short rhizomatous. Basal leaf sheaths are brown and somewhat fibrous. Leaf blades are mostly flat, glabrous, and (0.75-)1-4 mm wide. The culms are slender, much exceed the leaves, and are up to 60 cm long. The proximal bracts are leaf-like and usually are strongly exceeded by the culms. The terminal spike is staminate or occasionally gynecandrous, 4-10 mm long, and is equal to or overtopped by the distal most lateral spikes. There are 2-4 lateral pistillate spikes which are 5-20 cm long. They are on slender peduncles and the lower ones droop at maturity. Perigynia are 2.3-3.5 mm long, oblong-ovate, and taper to a 0.5-1.0 mm long beak (Ball 2002).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Carex capillaris is easiest to identify when it has just immature to mature perigynia.

Similar Species

Carex capillaris is a distinctive species and should not easily be confused with other species that occur in New York. It can be distinguished from members of section Hymenochlaenae by a combination of shorter pistillate spikes, brown versus usually red basal sheath bases, usually shorter perigynia lengths, and beaked versus sometimes non-beaked perigynia.

Best Time to See

Immature perigynia start to form in mid-June. These mature and persist untill late July or early August. Towards the end of this season they are starting to shed easily. Therefore, the best time to survey for this species is from late June through July.

  • Fruiting

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

Hair-like Sedge Images


Hair-like Sedge
Carex capillaris L.

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

Additional Common Names

  • Sedge


  • Carex capillaris ssp. chlorostachys (Stev.) A. & D. Löve & Raymond
  • Carex capillaris var. elongata Olney ex Fernald
  • Carex capillaris var. major Blytt
  • Carex chlorostachys Steven

Comments on the Classification

Carex capillaris is in section Chlorostachyae. It had previously been placed in section Capillares but Chlorostachyae is an older name (Mackenzie 1931-1935, Ball 2002). Carex capillaris is a variable circumboreal taxon. It is sometimes divided into two subspecific taxa. Southern plants, which include all plants from New York, are larger, have pale brown pistillate scales, and serrulate perigynium beaks. Apparently, these characters are not correlated and recent treatments only recognize one taxon. If recognized, the southern plants are called C. chlorostachya or C. capillaris ssp. capillaris (Ball 2002).

Additional Resources

Best Identification Reference

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.

Other References

Ball, P.W. 2002. Carex Linnaeus sect. Chlorostachyae Tuckerman ex Meinshausen. Pages 475-477 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.

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.

Mitchell, Richard S. and Gordon C. Tucker. 1997. Revised Checklist of New York State Plants. Contributions to a Flora of New York State. Checklist IV. Bulletin No. 490. New York State Museum. Albany, NY. 400 pp.

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.

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 University of South Florida]. New York Flora Association, Albany, New York

Wiegand, K.M. and A.J. Eames. 1926. The flora of the Cayuga Lake Basin, New York. Cornell University, Agricultural Experiment Station, Memoir 92, Ithaca, NY. 491 pp + map.


About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: November 4, 2022

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Carex capillaris. Available from: Accessed July 19, 2024.