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Kevin Doyle

Elk Sedge (Carex garberi)

Life history

Species overview

Elk Sedge (Carex garberi), a Wisconsin Threatened plant, is found in moist to wet sandy, gravelly, or dolomitic beach flats. Blooming occurs late May through late June; fruiting occurs late June through late August. The optimal identification period for this species is late June through late August.

Synonyms: Carex garberi var. bifaria, C. garberi ssp. bifaria


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Loosely cespitose; perigynia dusty-white when fresh, bearing 2-sided or flattened achenes; terminal spikelet staminate only on basal 1/3; lowermost pistillate spikelet peduncled; pistillate scales ascending. Most similar to C. aurea, which has pistillate scales spreading, mature perigynia golden-orange when fresh; terminal spikelet usually entirely staminate.
  • Flower characteristics: Terminal spike usually gynecandrous, with at least 1/3 of flowers male at the base, sessile or short-pedunculate; lowermost pistillate spikelet peduncled
  • Fruit characteristics: Perigynia ascending, dusty-white when fresh, elliptic-obovate, densely papillose; achenes 2-sided (lenticular or somewhat flattened).
  • Leaf characteristics: Basal sheaths not fibrous; sheath fronts membranous; blades V-shaped in cross section when young, glabrous, 5 to 15 cm by 1 to 2.5 mm.


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


  • Growth form: Graminoid
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Section: Bicolores
  • Comments: Associated Species: Carex eburnea, C. aurea, Castilleja coccinea, Hypericum kalmianum, Panicum lindheimerii, Equisetum variegatum, Juncus balticus, Lobelia kalmii.

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 Elk Sedge (Carex garberi). 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 garberi in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusTHR
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 moist to wet sandy, gravelly, or dolomitic beach flats.
  • Soils: Moist to wet, sandy, gravelly, or calcareous soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Elk 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
Great Lakes Beach 1
Great Lakes Alkaline Rockshore 3

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Elk 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.
  • Avoid any activities which destabilize the dune, including the use of off-road vehicles, removal of native vegetation and pedestrian recreational overuse.
  • Avoid disturbance to shorelines and the forest-beach interface.


Elk Sedge  Photo.

Photo © William S. Alverson.

Elk Sedge  Photo.

Scanned specimen courtesy of Wisconsin Herbarium

Elk Sedge  Photo.

Photo © Janeen Ruby.

Elk Sedge  Photo.

Photo © Janeen Ruby.

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: Tuesday, November 28, 2017
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