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For information on Wisconsin's rare plants, contact:
Kevin Doyle

Hair-like Sedge (Carex capillaris)

Life history

Species overview

Hair-like Sedge (Carex capillaris), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in brushy white cedar thickets along Great Lakes, with dolomite or sandstone near the surface, as well as in calcareous cedar swamps. Blooming occurs late May through early June; fruiting occurs late June through late July. The optimal identification period for this species is early June through early July.

Synonyms: Carex capillaris ssp. Chlorostachys, C. capillaris ssp. Robustior, C. capillaris var. elongata, C. capillaris var. major


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Densely tufted, cespitose, with very narrow, channeled leaves and stems slender and lax; terminal spike staminate; lowest pistallate spike drooping on long capillary peduncles; pistillate spikes less than 15 mm long; perigynia with 2 to 3 main veins, tapering into a poorly defined beak.
  • Flower characteristics: Terminal spike usually male, level with or over-topped by some lateral spikes; 2 to 4 lateral spikes 6 to 20-flowered, the lowest spikes drooping on long capillary peduncles; pistillate spikes less than 15 mm long.
  • Fruit characteristics: Perigynia veinless, except for 2 marginal veins, oblong-ovate, 2 to 3 mm long, tapering to a short, poorly defined beak; achenes obovoid.
  • Leaf characteristics: Blades flat, folded in dwarf individuals; blades V-shaped in cross section when young, or filiform or channeled, widest leaves 1 to 4 mm, glabrous; sheathes membranous.


  • Blooming phenology: late May through early June
  • Fruiting phenology: late June through late July
  • Optimum time to identify: early June through early July


  • Growth form: Graminoid
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Section: Chlorostachyae
  • Comments: Associated Species: Thuja occidentalis, Primula mistassinica, Carex concinna, C. castanea, Ledum groenlandicum, Sorbus decora, Betula papyrifera, Lobelia kalmii, Picea glauca.

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 Hair-like Sedge (Carex capillaris). 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 capillaris in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1S2
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 brushy white cedar thickets along Great Lakes, with dolomite or sandstone near the surface, as well as in calcareous cedar swamps.
  • Soils: Moist, calcareous or sandy soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Hair-like 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).

Natural communities score
Northern Wet-mesic Forest 2
Boreal Forest 3

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Hair-like 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 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.

Management guidance

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

  • Minimize disturbance to hydrology, including soil disturbance from rutting.
  • Follow BMPs, especially around streams and use care near ravines, steep slopes, cliffs, rock outcrops, etc.
  • Buffer management around unique microhabitats such as ephemeral ponds, seeps, etc.


Hair-like Sedge  Photo.

Photo © Emmet Judziewicz.

Hair-like Sedge  Photo.

Photo © Emmet Judziewicz.

Hair-like Sedge  Photo.

Photo © Emmet Judziewicz.

Hair-like Sedge  Photo.

Photo © Emmet Judziewicz.

Hair-like Sedge  Photo.

Photo © E.G. Hurd.

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: Monday, April 30, 2018
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