Carex pellita (Woolly Sedge)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Cyperaceae (Sedge)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist to wet sandy soil; marshes, fens, lakeshores, wet meadows, swales, ditches
Fruiting season:May - July
Plant height:6 to 40 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Spikes: Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowering spikes] Separate staminate (male) and pistillate (female) spikes, with 1 to 3 staminate spikes crowded together at the tip of the stem, the terminal spike up to 2 inches long and the others much smaller; rarely a secondary staminate spike has a few pistillate flowers. Below the staminate spikes are 1 to 4 (usually 2 or 3), widely spaced pistillate spikes. Pistillate spikes are cylindric, up to 1½ inches long, stalkless or nearly so, and rarely have a few staminate flowers at the tip (androgynous). At the base of each pistillate spike is a leaf-like bract that is longer than the spike, the bract of the lowest spike often over-topping the terminal spike.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal

[photo of sheath and ligule] Leaves are basal and alternate, mostly near the base, 2 to 5 mm wide, arching at maturity and mostly shorter than the flowering stem. Stem leaf sheaths are initially U-shaped, translucent whitish-green, the lower leaf sheaths often shredding with age forming a ladder-shape of thread-like fibers across the front. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is triangular, longer than wide, the upper leaf ligules longest. Leaves have a conspicuous midrib, are hairless though may be slightly rough at the tip end, and M-shaped in cross-section when young. Leaves of vegetative shoots are longer and wider than those of flowering plants.

[photo of basal sheaths] Bases are wrapped in a reddish sheath that is fibrous, often forming ladder-shapes of thread-like fibers. Stems are erect, 3-sided and smooth or slightly rough along the angles. Stems elongate up to 40 inches at maturity and mostly longer than the stem leaves. Plants can create large colonies from long, creeping rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature pistillate spike] Fruit develops in late spring to mid-summer, the pistillate spikes forming clusters of seeds (achenes), each wrapped in a casing (perigynium), subtended by a scale. Perigynia are ascending to widely spreading and usually tightly crowded on the spike. Each pistillate spike contains 25 to 75 fruits.

[photo of perigynia, scales and achene Pistillate scales are lance to egg-shaped, whitish or tinged brown along the edge with a green midrib, either tapering to a pointed tip or the midrib extending to a short awn, somewhat hairy or rough around the tip edge, and are shorter than to longer than the perigynia. Perigynia are 2.4 to 5 mm long, 1.7 to 2.8 mm wide, densely hairy, many-nerved (usually obscured by the hairs), oval to nearly round, tapering to a short, straight beak that has 2 small teeth at the tip. Achenes are 3-sided, 1.5 to 2 mm long, up to 1.5 mm wide, maturing to brown.


Carex pellita, formerly known as C. lanuginosa, is a common sedge of wet places. It is a somewhat variable species, particularly in the color of perigynia, from pale green to yellowish to purplish, finally drying to dull brown.

Carex is a large genus, with over 600 species in North America and 150+ in Minnesota alone. They are grouped into sections, the species in each group having common traits. Carex pellita is in the Paludosae section; some of its common traits are: rhizomatous and forming colonies, leaves usually hairless, leaf sheaths often splitting into fibers and forming a ladder shape, leaves and sheaths with cross partitions between veins (septate-nodulose), basal sheaths red to purple and usually fibrous, terminal spike staminate, leaf-like bract subtending the lowest pistillate spike, perigynia usually hairy, beaked and toothed, achenes 3-sided in cross-section.

C. pellita resembles 2 other colony-forming sedges with hairy perigynia: Carex lasiocarpa and Carex houghtoniana. C. lasiocarpa has wiry leaves and bracts, strongly rolled along the edges forming a slender tube, where C. pellita leaves are flat with a distinct midrib. C. houghtoniana perigynia are rather larger (to 6.5 mm) with stronger venation and more loosely arranged on the spike, and has a preference for drier, disturbed soils.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka county and his backyard garden. Other photos courtesy Steve Eggers.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: luciearl - Lake Shore
on: 2023-07-02 07:57:10

Found this growing in my shoreline buffer. Wondering of benefits? Food for birds?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-07-02 18:08:44

luciearl, can't say about this Carex specifically, but there there are a variety of insects and waterfowl that feed on wetland sedges.

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