Plant of the Week
Plantain-leaf sedge (Carex plantaginea Lam.)
By Chad Kirschbaum
When it comes to charisma, most sedges do not cut it. It takes a special person to recognize and appreciate the subtle beauty of a sedge (Family: Cyperaceae). In many cases, it takes a specialist to recognize which species of sedge one is dealing with! However, one easily recognized sedge is Carex plantaginea, plantain-leaf sedge. With its plump perigynia and vivacious green leaves with dark purple sheaths, plantain-leaf sedge has plenty of sparkle to make even the mildest graminoid enthusiast giddy.
Plantain-leaf sedge has wrinkled, wide leaves (8 to 32mm wide) and basal sheaths that are deep wine-red in color. The fertile culms have 3 to 5 spikes with 9 to 13 perigynia that are obtusely triangular in cross-section (in contrast to other species that have triangular perigynia). The leaves will over-winter and often appear shriveled or dead at the tips. Carex plantaginea grows in the deep shade of mesic forests, especially along moist north facing slopes with cold-air drainage.
Carex plantaginea is a great plant for shade gardens because it blooms early, has interesting leaf morphology, and can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions. Deer and rabbits have also been observed to munch on the fertile culms of this sedge, probably because it blooms early; when there are not many other plants to eat.