Sheathed Sedge

Carex vaginata Tausch

Carex vaginata 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?

Vaginata means sheathed (Fernald 1970), which probably refers to the lower leaves which are long sheathing and lack blades. Carex vaginata is circumpolar in distribution and occurs around the world in the northern regions.

State Ranking Justification

There is only a single known population with five historical locations. This is a plant of calcareous swamps, a limited and rare community type. New York is also this species' southern range limit. This sedge should be sought in other calcareous swamps similar to Bergen, Bonaparte, and Lisbon Swamps.

Short-term Trends

Only one population has been seen recently in New York. Although this population has been seen numerous times the full extent of the population is unknown and trends are unclear. Still, this population appears to be robust and healthy and there is no indication that it is declining. All other populations are only known historically. Therefore, short term trends are not clear but may indicate that populations are stable.

Long-term Trends

The one extant population has been documented since 1865. This population appears robust and healthy but there is no data indicating if this population is truly stable. There are about 4 or 5 other populations which have not been seen in at least 85 years. Dedicated surveys to these sites have not been conducted so it is unclear if these populations are still extant. Overall, long term trends are unknown.

Conservation and Management


Deer browsing is very heavy in the one known extant site but it is unclear if the deer are browsing the Carex vaginata.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

At the one known extant site, deer browsing is high. Deer populations are being managed by the owner of this property and this should continue. The deer population at this site should be lowered even further than current levels.

Research Needs

All historical sites should be surveyed to see if C. vaginata is still extant at these sites. Additional surveys should be conducted to other likely sites, in particular rich cool northern cedar swamps.



Calcareous cedar swamps near rich fens (New York Natural Heritage Program 2006). Calcareous swamps, boggy thickets, and woods (Rothrock and Reznicek 2002). Wet woods and bogs, chiefly in calcareous districts (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). Mossy swamps of cedar and mixed conifers (Voss 1972).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Northern white cedar swamp (guide)
    A swamp that occurs on organic soils in cool, poorly drained depressions in central and northern New York, and along lakes and streams in the northern half of the state. These swamps are often spring-fed with continually saturated soils. Soils are often rich in calcium. The characteristic tree is northern white cedar, which makes up more than 30% of the canopy cover.
  • Red maple-tamarack peat swamp* (guide)
    A swamp that occurs on organic soils (peat or muck) in poorly drained depressions. These swamps are often spring fed or enriched by seepage of mineral-rich groundwater resulting in a stable water table and continually saturated soil. The dominant trees are red maple and tamarack. These species usually form an open canopy (50 to 70% cover) with numerous small openings dominated by shrubs or sedges.
  • Rich hemlock-hardwood peat swamp* (guide)
    A swamp that occurs in central New York in depressions or concave slopes which receive groundwater discharge. These swamps usually have a fairly open canopy (50 to 70% cover), scattered shrubs, and a diverse groundlayer with sedges, mosses, and forbs. The characteristic canopy trees are eastern hemlock (which usually have at least 20% cover), red maple, yellow birch, black ash, tamarack, white pine, smooth serviceberry, balsam fir, and northern white cedar.

* probable association but not confirmed.

Associated Species

  • Carex gynocrates (northern bog sedge)
  • Carex interior (inland sedge)
  • Cystopteris bulbifera (bulblet fern)
  • Osmunda cinnamomea
  • Thuja occidentalis (northern white cedar, arbor vitae)
  • Valeriana uliginosa (marsh valerian, swamp valerian)


New York State Distribution

Carex vaginata occurs at a few scattered sites in New York from southwest of Rochester to the high peaks region of the Adirondacks.

Global Distribution

Carex vaginata is circumpolar in distribution. In North America it occurs from Alaska, Nunavut, and Greenland south to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Montana, and British Columbia (Rothrock and Reznicek 2002).

Identification Comments

General Description

Carex vaginata is a perennial grass-like plant that occurs in patches. It has long spreading rhizomes and short strap-like leaves that are 1.5-4.0 mm wide. Stems 7-60 cm tall, are produced from the rhizomes. At the apex of the stem is a cluster of male flowers. Additionally, on the upper half of the stems are secondary stems that branch off of the main stem and have female flower/fruit clusters at their apex. Fruits (perigynia) are 3.5-5.0 mm long and have a beak at their apex which is 0.4-2.2 mm long (Rothrock and Reznicek 2002).

Identifying Characteristics

Carex vaginata is long rhizomatous and colonial in habit. Lower leaves are bladeless, while the upper leaves have blades which are 1.5-4.0 mm wide. Culms are 7-60 cm tall. Proximal bracts have sheaths and relatively short blades. These blades are 1-1.5 cm long. Lateral spikes are pistillate and 0.8-3.0 cm long. Pistillate scales are purple tinged. The terminal spike is staminate. Perigynia are 3.5-5.0 mm long, smooth, and have a slender beak (0.4-)0.6-1.8(-2.2) mm long (Rothrock and Reznicek 2002).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Carex vaginata is easiest to identify when its perigynia are almost mature to mature but have not shed.

Similar Species

Carex vaginata is a very distinctive sedge and is easy to recognize in the field. The colonial habit, smooth, long beaked perigynia, and wetland habitat should separate it from most other similar species. Carex polymorpha which is somewhat similar occurs in uplands, has strongly papillose culms, leaves, and perigynia, and has reddish-purple basal leaf and proximal bract sheaths. In comparison Carex vaginata occurs in wetlands, has smooth to slightly papillose culms, leaves, and perigynia, and has pale brown basal leaf and proximal bract sheaths (Rothrock and Reznicek 2002).

Best Time to See

Carex vaginata is in immature to mature fruit from early June through July and sometimes even later. Later in the season the perigynia are shedding making identification harder. Therefore, the best time to survey for this species is from early June till very early July.

  • Fruiting

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

Sheathed Sedge Images


Sheathed Sedge
Carex vaginata Tausch

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

Additional Common Names

  • Sedge


  • Carex saltuensis L.H. Bailey

Comments on the Classification

Carex vaginata is currently placed in section Paniceae but its placement in this section is questioned (Rothrock and Reznicek 2002). Carex vaginata also occurs in northern Europe and Asia (Fernald 1970). The name Carex saltuensis is sometimes used for North American occurrences but Fernald (1970) felt this was not warranted and Flora of North America (Rothrock and Reznicek 2002) follow this opinion. Other recent authors recognize the split and also recognize additional taxa (Egorova 1999 in Rothrock and Reznicek 2002). More research is called for with this species (Rothrock and Reznicek 2002).

Additional Resources

Best Identification Reference

Rothrock, P.E. and A.A. Reznicek. 2002. Carex Linnaeus sect. Paniceae G. Don. Pages 426-431 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, NY, 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.

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


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 vaginata. Available from: Accessed June 23, 2024.