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Monday, August 8, 2011

Prairie Spotlight: Clustered Field Sedge

The Berry Center is lucky to house a group of extremely talented and knowledgeable scientists all studying topics related to biodiversity.  For the plant gurus out there, here’s a post for you.  Joy Handley is a botanist for the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, a UW group that researches rare and sensitive plants, animals and ecosystems in Wyoming.  They work a lot with data collection and storage, as well as GIS and mapping of these species and ecosystems.  Check out their website or stop in to the Berry Center’s third floor to learn more.

Joy Handley, above, is surrounded by maps in her office in the Berry Center.
She studies and tracks
rare and sensitive Wyoming plant species, as part
of the
Wyoming Natural Diversity Database.
Joy is a sedge and grass pro.  Below is a description she wrote of the one sedge species present in the Berry Prairie.  Sedges are pretty neat species – they’re often mistaken for grasses, but serve a different and unique purpose in the natural environment!  Email Joy at thuja (at) uwyo (dot) edu with any questions.

Berry Center green roof sedge: Clustered Field Sedge (Carex praegracilis)

"Sedges are similar to grasses in that they are monocots with linear leaves, and have reduced “flowers.”  Sedge leaves mostly arise from the base of the plant, rather than along the culm (stem).  The saying “sedges have edges” comes from the fact that sedges generally have triangular culms, whereas grasses have round culms.  The angles of the sedge culm can be felt when it is rolled between the thumb and forefinger.   

Photo courtesy of the Santa Monica
Mountains National Recreation Area
The achene (dry, one-seeded fruit) of sedges is within a bract-like sac known as a perigynium.  The characteristics of the perigynium and the scale (bract) beneath it are important in identifying different sedge species.  Sedges are usually associated with the edges of ponds and streams, and other moist areas, although a few species grow in relatively dry grasslands.   

All sedges are perennial and have rhizomes (underground stems for vegetative reproduction).  Some species have very short rhizomes and are tufted, similar to bunchgrasses.  Sedges usually have high forage value for wildlife and livestock.
Photo courtesy of Illinois Wildflowers website
Clustered field sedge (Carex praegracilis) is found in moist to seasonally wet areas, often alkaline, and is widespread throughout Wyoming.  The spikes are tan to brown and are mostly androgynous, meaning that both male and female reproductive parts are on the same stem.  The spikes are grouped into somewhat egg-shaped bunches.  The color of the spike comes from the color of the bracts.  The culms are sharply triangular and the rhizomes fairly long, so it does not have a tufted appearance but may form dense colonies."

By Brenna Wanous, Berry Center, and Joy Handley, WYNDD

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