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Handsome Sedge (Carex formosa)

Life history

Species overview

Handsome Sedge (Carex formosa), a Wisconsin Threatened plant, is found in rich mesic woods, often on alluvial terraces or where dolomite is near the surface. Blooming occurs throughout June; fruiting occurs throughout July. The optimal identification period for this species is late June through early July.

Synonyms: None


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Most similar to C. davisii, which has a staminate flowers at the base of only the terminal spikelet, and pistillate scales with a distinct prolonged awn that equals or exceeds the perigynia.
  • Flower characteristics: Terminal spike gynecandrous; lateral spikes 2 to 4, 1 per node, well separated, drooping at maturity, mostly pistillate except for 1 to 2 male flowers at base of each.
  • Fruit characteristics: Perigynia beakless, green, copiously red dotted, 2-ribbed with 7 to 12 fine veins on each face, loosely enveloping achene, ovoid-ellipsoid, membranous, base with short stipe, apex narrowing to abrupt beak, glabrous; achenes substipitate.
  • Leaf characteristics: Basal sheaths maroon, bladeless, pubescent, sometimes glabrous, others grading from maroon to green on back, white-hyaline, red dotted, and pilose on front; blades flat, 3 to 7 mm wide, glabrous on adaxial surface, pilose on abaxial surface and margins.


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


  • Growth form: Graminoid
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Section: Hymenochlaenae
  • Comments: Associated Species: Acer saccharum, Tilia americana, Ostrya virginiana, Carya ovata, Quercus alba, Q. macrocarpa, Cornus racemosa.

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 Handsome Sedge (Carex formosa). 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 formosa in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusTHR
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS2
Global RankG4
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 rich mesic woods, often on alluvial terraces or where dolomite is near the surface.
  • Soils: Rich, calcareous soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Handsome 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
Ephemeral Pond 2
Floodplain Forest 2
Southern Mesic Forest 3

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Handsome 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 seeps in forests where this species has been reported.
  • 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 direct disturbance to sensitive microsites such as seeps, cliffs, and moss-covered boulders.

Management guidance

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

  • Buffer management around unique microhabitats such as ephemeral ponds, seeps, etc.
  • Maintain partial canopy to encourage woodland species; avoid closed-canopy conditions.
  • Minimize disturbance to hydrology, including soil disturbance from rutting.


Handsome Sedge Photo.

Photo © Emmet Judziewicz.

Handsome Sedge Photo.

Photo © Emmet Judziewicz.

Handsome Sedge Photo.

Photo © Emmet Judziewicz.

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