woolly sedge

(Carex pellita)

Conservation Status
woolly sedge
Photo by Luciearl
  IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern


N5? - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

OBL - Obligate wetland


OBL - Obligate wetland

  Northcentral & Northeast

OBL - Obligate wetland


Woolly sedge is a common, widespread, easily recognized, true sedge. It is one of the most widespread sedges in North America. It occurs across the United States from Maine and northern Virginia in the east to northern Washington and central California in the west. It also occurs across southern Canada. It is very common in Minnesota, where it has been recorded in each of the state’s 87 counties. It is found in wet meadows, marshes, limy (calcareous) fens, shrubby wetlands (carrs), swampy woodlands, and ditches; on streambanks and lake shores; and in small, moist, disturbed areas. It is also found in dry meadows and on low sand dunes. It is especially common in areas with calcareous soils, but it is also found in areas with neutral soils. It is not found in bogs and other acidic peatlands.

Woolly sedge is a perennial sedge that rises on one or a few stems (culms) from a horizontal underground stem (rhizome). The rhizome is well-developed and long creeping, up to 12 (30 cm) long. It forms large colonies, but the stems are well spaced, not clumped.

Non-fertile (vegetative) culms are relatively short, 4¾ to 12 (12 to 30 cm) tall. They are actually false stems, composed almost entirely of a series of overlapping leaf sheaths. The lowermost leaves on these stems are reduced to nearly bladeless sheaths.

Flowering (fertile) culms are 12 to 40 (30 to 100 cm) tall. They are taller than the vegetative culms but do not rise above the leaves. They are acutely triangular, light green, tinged reddish-purple at the base, hairless, and usually rough to the touch on the edges. The base of the stem does not have the remains of last year’s leaves.

The leaves are green, slighty yellowish, 1¼ to 24 (3 to 60 cm) long, and 116 to ¼ (2 to 6 mm) wide. They are flat or M-shaped in cross section. The middle channel is tight, and the midvein forms a prominent, sharp keel. They are tapered to a long, pointed tip, but the tip is not prolonged. The margins near the tip are rolled under. The blade surface is hairless and is not covered with a whitish bloom (glaucous). The inner face of the sheath at first is membranous and yellowish at the top. It soon becomes bronzish and breaks into horizontal ladder-like fibers as it ages. The tip of the leaf sheath is deeply concave, U-shaped, and is hairless, not fringed. The ligule is thin, membranous, and 116 to ½ (2 to 12 mm) wide. The lowermost leaves are reduced to nearly bladeless sheaths. The lowermost leaf sheaths are reddish-purple and composed of numerous fine fibers. They sometimes break into horizontal ladder-like fibers as they age.

Each flowering stem terminates in a 2 to 12 (5 to 30 cm) long inflorescence consisting of 1 to 4 male (staminate) spikes above 1 to 3 female (pistillate) spikes. The end (terminal) spike is on a ¾ to 3½ (2 to 9 cm) long stalk (peduncle). The remaining (lateral) spikes are stalkless or nearly stalkless.

The staminate spikes are erect, cylindrical, linear or narrowly oblong, and ¾ to 2 (20 to 60 mm) long. Each spike is composed of numerous, densely overlapping flowers. Each staminate flower is composed of 3 stamens and is subtended by a single scale. The scale is to 3 16 (3 to 5 mm) long and light reddish-brown with a lighter center and white margins.

The pistillate spikes are ascending, cylindrical, narrowly oblong in outline, to 2 (10 to 50 mm) long, and 316 to 516 (5 to 8 mm) wide. Each spike is composed of numerous densely overlapping flowers. Each flower is surrounded by a sac-like structure (perigynium) and is subtended by a single scale. The scale is lance-shaped to egg-shaped. At the tip the sides are straight (acute) or concave (acuminate), and it may end in a short, bristle-like extension (awn). The surface is hairless but may be rough to the touch near the tip.

Each perigynium is ascending, swollen, hard, broadly egg-shaped, to 316 (2.4 to 5.2 mm) long, and 116 to (1.7 to 2.8 mm) wide. It is abruptly contracted at the tip into a short, 132 to 116 (0.8 to 1.6 mm) long beak. The beak is firm and is divided at the tip into two 164 to 132 (0.4 to 0.8 mm) long teeth. The perigynium surface is densely covered with short hairs that obscure the veins.

The fruit is an achene with 3 stigmas.




12 to 40 (30 to 100 cm)


Similar Species


Woolly-fruit sedge (Carex lasiocarpa) leaves and bracts are narrower and tightly rolled, wire-like.


Wet meadows, dry meadows, marshes, calcareous fens, carrs, swampy woodlands, ditches, streambanks, lake shores, sand dunes, and disturbed areas.




May to June




Late May to early August


Pests and Diseases






Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 24, 28, 29, 30, 84.








Very common

  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Liliopsida (monocots)  


Poales (grasses, sedges, cattails, and allies)  


Cyperaceae (sedges)  
  Subfamily Cyperoideae  
  Tribe Cariceae  


Carex (true sedges)  
  Subgenus Carex  
  Section Paludosae  

Subordinate Taxa






Carex lanuginosa


Common Names


broad-leaved woolly sedge

woolly sedge













Growing upward at an angle or curving upward from the base.



A stiff, bristle-like appendage at the tip of the glume, lemma, or palea of grass florets.



On plants: A comparatively short and stout, narrow or prolonged tip on a thickened organ, as on some fruits and seeds. On insects: The protruding, tubular mouthpart of a sucking insect.



Modified leaf at the base of a flower stalk, flower cluster, or inflorescence.



The hollow or pithy stem of a grass, sedge, or rush.



Pale green or bluish gray due to a whitish, powdery or waxy film, as on a plum or a grape.



In grasses and sedges, a membranous appendage at the junction of the leaf and the leaf sheath, sometimes no more than a fringe of hairs. In flowering plants, the flat, strap-shaped, petal-like portion of the corolla of a ray floret.



In angiosperms, the stalk of a single flower or a flower cluster; in club mosses, the stalk of a strobilus or a group of strobili.



In Carex and other closely related sedges, a sac-like structure that surrounds the pistillate flower and later encloses the achene. Plural: perigynia.



Referring to a flower that has a female reproductive organ (pistil) but does not have male reproductive organs (stamens).



The lower part of the leaf that surrounds the stem.



The arrangement of an unbranched, elongated inflorescence with stalkless flowers that mature from the base toward the tip. In Cyperaceae, it also denotes a collection of one or more stalkless flowers, each subtended by scales, on a single inflorescence axis.



Referring to a flower that has a male reproductive organs (stamens) but does not have a female reproductive organ (pistil).





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Found this growing on the shore in my buffer.

  woolly sedge  
    woolly sedge   woolly sedge  
MinnesotaSeasons.com Photos





Carex pellita - woolly sedge
Matt Lavin
  Carex pellita - woolly sedge  

Woolly sedge is a native rhizomatous perennial most common in wetlands from low to montane elevations. It is distinguished by conspicuously hairy perigynia each with a distinctly bidentate (split) beak, inflorescence bracts longer than the inflorescence, and leaves that are often 2-5 mm wide and mostly flat.




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June 2023

Location: Lake Shore, Cass County

Found this growing on the shore in my buffer.

woolly sedge

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Created: 6/26/2022

Last Updated:

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