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Fescue Sedge (Carex festucacea)

Life history

Species overview

Fescue Sedge (Carex festucacea), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in wet meadows as well as open, moist margins of lakes and large river floodplains (i.e., Wisconsin River). Blooming occurs mid-May through early July; fruiting occurs mid May through early July. The optimal identification period for this species is early June through July.



  • Distinguishing characteristics: Arching to nodding inflorescence; distinguished from C. tenera by having perigynia wider and more orbicular in shape and terminal spikes with a prominent clavate base.
  • Flower characteristics: Pistillate spikes 4 to 10, ovoid in shape, 6 to 16 mm long, often distinctly clavate at the base, sessile, distinct but crowded into a compact cluster.
  • Fruit characteristics: Perigynia 2.5 to 4 mm long, suborbicular to broadly elliptic, the body approximately as long as wide, broadest across the lower third to half, inconspicuously veined on the inner face, strongly flattened or lenticular and conspicuously winged.
  • Leaf characteristics: Main leaves 2 to 5 mm wide, sheaths papillose or smooth, green to whitish between the veins, with an inner hyaline band.


  • Blooming phenology: mid-May through early July
  • Fruiting phenology: mid May through early July
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is early June through July


  • Growth form: Graminoid
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Section: Ovales
  • Comments: Associated Species: Carex stricta, Glyceria canadensis, Osmunda regalis, Helianthus giganteus, Solidago gigantea, Thelypteris palustris, Hierochloe odorata, Panicum boreale, Juncus effusus, Anemone canadensis, Aronia melanocarpa, Potentilla simplex, Rosa blanda, Rubus hispidus, Oenothera perennis, Galium obtusum, Campanula aparinoides, Krigia biflora, Thalictrum dasycarpum.

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 Fescue Sedge (Carex festucacea). 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 festucacea in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS2
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 wet meadows as well as open, moist margins of lakes and large river floodplains (i.e., Wisconsin River).
  • Soils: Peat to moist sand and sandy loam soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Fescue 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 Fescue 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

  • Maintain and restore open habitat through selective clearing and brushing.
  • Follow BMPs, especially around streams and use care near ravines, steep slopes, cliffs, rock outcrops, etc.
  • Prescribed burns and/or brushing may be beneficial (dependent on local site conditions).
  • Avoid disturbance to shorelines and the forest-beach interface.


Fescue Sedge Photo.

Photo © Ken Womble.

Fescue Sedge Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Fescue Sedge Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Fescue Sedge Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

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