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Fernald's Sedge (Carex merritt-fernaldii)

Life history

Species overview

Fernald's Sedge (Carex merritt-fernaldii), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in dry sandy soils and rocky outcrops (both sandstone and granite) in central, north-central, and northeastern Wisconsin. It is usually found in recently burned barrens, and occassionally in low, moist sandy areas along lake margins or roadsides. Blooming occurs June to early August; fruiting occurs June to early August. The optimal identification period for this species is June to early August.

Synonyms: Carex brevior var. pseudofestucacea


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Distinguished from C. bicknellii by range and from C. brevior by presence of papillose leaf sheaths.
  • Flower characteristics: Gynecandrous (female flowers above male flowers), yellow-green to rust colored spikes, rounded at base and apex.
  • Fruit characteristics: Perigynia thin, membranous, ovate, 3 to 5mm long.
  • Leaf characteristics: Leaf sheaths papillose, inner band transparent, 3 to 4.5 mm wide.


  • Blooming phenology: June to early August
  • Fruiting phenology: June to early August
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is June to early August


  • Growth form: Graminoid
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Section: Ovales
  • Comments: Associated Species: Pinus banksiana, P. resinosa, Quercus velutina, Betula papyrifera, Populus grandidentata, Pteridium aquilinum, Vaccinium angustifolium, Triosetum angustifolium, Danthonia spicata, Poa pratensis, Solidago speciosa.

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 Fernald's Sedge (Carex merritt-fernaldii). 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 merritt-fernaldii in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS3
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 dry sandy soils and rocky outcrops (both sandstone and granite) in central, north-central, and northeastern Wisconsin. It is usually found in recently burned barrens, and occassionally in low, moist sandy areas along lake margins or roadsides.
  • Soils: Deep sand to thin soils over bedrock.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Fernald's 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 Fernald's 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 locating landings, staging areas, or access routes in open sandy areas dominated by native grasses.
  • 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

  • Prescribed burns and/or brushing may be beneficial (dependent on local site conditions).
  • Maintain low canopy cover areas for savanna and barrens plant species.
  • Follow BMPs, especially around streams and use care near ravines, steep slopes, cliffs, rock outcrops, etc.


Fernald's Sedge Photo.

Photo © Natalie Kirchner.

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