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Slender Sedge (Carex gracilescens)

Life history

Species overview

Slender Sedge (Carex gracilescens), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in mesic deciduous forests. Blooming occurs throughout May; fruiting occurs throughout June. The optimal identification period for this species is late May through late June.

Synonyms: Carex laxiflora var. gracillima


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Most similar to Carex blanda, which has leaves white bases, staminate spikelet sessile shorter than the tips of the bracts, and somewhat longer perigynia with a shorter beak.
  • Flower characteristics: 3 to 5 spikes per culm; lower spikes pistillate on erect to ascending peduncles; terminal spikelet staminate and peduncled, usually elevated above pistillate spikelets.
  • Fruit characteristics: 4 to 12 perigynia per spike, closely overlapping, aggregated, ascending, conspicuously veined, elliptic-obovate, broadly rounded and spindle or top-shaped; beak abruptly bent; achenes obovoid.
  • Leaf characteristics: Widest leaves usually 5 mm wide; basal sheaths reddish-purple or purple tinged; sheaths 2 to 42 mm; blades ascending or lax, erect, green or yellow-green, not glaucous, midrib developed adaxially, 2 lateral veins abaxially; blades of overwintering leaves smooth.


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


  • Growth form: Graminoid
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Section: Laxiflorae
  • Comments: Associated Species: Acer saccharum, Fagus grandifolia.

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 Slender Sedge (Carex gracilescens). 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 gracilescens 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 mesic deciduous forests.
  • Soils: Sandy or rocky, sometimes calcareous soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Slender 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 Slender 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 broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • 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.

Management guidance

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

  • Avoid rapid and dramatic reductions in canopy cover or basal area in wet areas to reduce risk of swamping.
  • Maintain high forest canopy cover; this species requires shaded habitat conditions.
  • Minimize disturbance to hydrology, including soil disturbance from rutting.


Slender Sedge Photo.

Photo © Ken Womble.

Slender Sedge Photo.

Photo © Ken Womble.

Slender Sedge Photo.

Photo © Charles T. Bryson,

Slender Sedge Photo.

Scanned specimen courtesy of Wisconsin Herbarium

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