A Very Strange Sedge

I am quickly realizing that there are some plants out there that I simply cannot prepare myself to see. Something about their look, growth habit, or location just crosses some wires in my brain and causes me a few minutes of confusion until I can regain some composure. Fraser's sedge (Cymophyllus fraserianus) is one such plant.

I had briefly read about this species on a trail map website. The author mentioned there would be some plants worth seeing in the area and Fraser's sedge was one of them. Not being particularly good at gramminoids I figured I probably wouldn't know it even if I had seen it. Was I ever wrong. Fraser's sedge may very well be impossible to miss.

It grows rather large and its long strap-like leaves are more reminiscent of some sort of epiphytic orchid or limp bromeliad. Indeed, Fraser's sedge is truly unique. It is the only member of its genus and experts believe it to be a very old, relictual lineage. It is only found growing on rich mountain slopes in the Appalachian Mountains. It is also quite endangered throughout much of its range due to habitat fragmentation.

Aside from its foliage, Fraser's sedge also produces what are quite possibly the most attractive flowers of any sedge (opinion of course), which are produced in early spring. They are rather unique in that they are stark white. This has led some to believe that this specie is insect pollinated. Whether or not this is a true pollinator syndrome or just a casual observation is yet to be seen. Either way, encountering this plant in flower would be a truly special occurrence.

Due to habitat loss, there is a lot of fear that remaining isolated populations of this wonderful endemic are at increased risk of genetic bottlenecking. DNA analysis of some populations offer hope as the more restricted populations still show signs of ample genetic diversity. Still, time may prove otherwise as more and more individuals are lost to careless development. In the mean time, efforts are being made at conserving this species into the future.

Photo Credit: Will Stuart (http://bit.ly/1CWohbw)

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Spring is not only a good time of year to see showy wildflowers in bloom, it is also a good time of year to check out the flowers of some of our frequently overlooked native grasses and sedges.

There are so many species of grasses and sedges out there and their habitat preferences are just as varied. Most are quite a challenge to identify in my opinion. One must take a microscopic view of the flowering structures along with the seeds to really narrow it down. Either way, you don't necessarily need to know what species it is to enjoy it.


Get down and take a look at how each species presents its flowers. The structures can be quite elaborate and, with the aid of a hand lens, quite beautiful. Being mostly wind pollinated, there tends to be a pattern in which anthers are placed on top of the flowering spike and stigmas tucked below.

Sedges and grasses also occupy a very important ecological role in communities where they are native. They are food plants, shelter plants, and soil stabilizers. They can even serve as a growth surface for other plant species. Many different kinds of birds will nest in and around grasses and sedges as well. Some species are pivotal in the succession of different habitat types. 

Take some time to get to know these great plants. More nurseries are beginning to wake up to their potential as landscape plants. Definitely consider some species that are native to your neck of the woods next time you are in the mood for some gardening.

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