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Rocky Mountain Sedge (Carex backii)

Life history

Species overview

Rocky Mountain Sedge (Carex backii), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in open dry woods and northern mesic forests, as well as forested seeps and on rock outcrops and muddy shores. Blooming occurs throughout May; fruiting occurs throughout June. The optimal identification period for this species is throughout June.

Synonyms: Carex backii var. subrostrata, Carex durifolia, Carex durifolia var. subrostrata, Carex saximontana


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Cespitose; perigynia gradually tapering to apex with a short beak up to 2 mm long; pistillate scales 2 to 6 mm wide and essentially concealing the periginia; lower scales long and leaf-like; achenes loosely enveloped by perigynia.
  • Flower characteristics: Male portion of terminal spike 2 to 3-flowered; female portion of terminal spike 2 to 7-flowered; 0 to 3 lateral spikes, basal, on erect peduncles.
  • Fruit characteristics: Perigynia few (2 to 7 per spikelet), dull green to dark olive green, ellipsoid to ovoid, apex gradually tapering to a short slender beak to 2 mm long.
  • Leaf characteristics: Basal sheaths pale to medium brown; wider leaf blades 3.5 to 5.5 mm wide, dull green to yellowish green, longer than stems, coriaceous, crenulate to scabrous.


  • Blooming phenology: throughout May
  • Fruiting phenology: throughout June
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is throughout June


  • Growth form: Graminoid
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Section: Phyllostachyae
  • Comments: Associated Species: Pinus strobus, P. resinosa, Quercus spp., Acer rubrum, Sambucus pubens, Cornus canadensis, Vaccinium angustifolium.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Rocky Mountain Sedge (Carex backii). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Carex backii in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found in open dry woods and northern mesic forests, as well as forested seeps and on rock outcrops and muddy shores.
  • Soils: Acidic or calcareous soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Rocky Mountain Sedge. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Rocky Mountain Sedge. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid direct disturbance to sensitive microsites such as seeps, cliffs, and moss-covered boulders.
  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • Avoid site preparation that heavily disturbs herbaceous ground layer and soil; these include bulldozing and furrowing, as well as grubbing and stump removal.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Maintain partial canopy to encourage woodland species; avoid closed-canopy conditions.
  • Follow BMPs, especially around streams and use care near ravines, steep slopes, cliffs, rock outcrops, etc.


Rocky Mountain Sedge Photo.

From USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Hurd, E.G., N.L. Shaw, J. Mastrogiuseppe, L.C. Smithman, and S. Goodrich. 1998. Field guide to Intermountain sedges. General Technical Report RMS-GTR-10. USDA Forest Service, RMRS, Ogden.

Rocky Mountain Sedge Photo.

Photo © Ted Cochrane, Wisconsin State Herbarium

Rocky Mountain Sedge Photo.

Photo © E.G. Hurd.

Rocky Mountain Sedge Photo.

Photo © Derek Anderson.

Rocky Mountain Sedge Photo.

Photo © Derek Anderson.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition