Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Bristly-stalk Sedge - Carex leptalea   Wahlenberg
Members of Carex with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 5 » Order Cyperales » Family Cyperaceae
AuthorWahlenberg
DistributionMore-or-less throughout the state but with large gaps in the northern Piedmont and the northern-middle Coastal Plain.

Lab. to AK south to central FL, TX, and CA.
AbundanceUncommon to locally common, though very rare to rare in the northeastern parts of the state. At it ranges over nearly all of southeastern VA, this large hole in the NC range is disturbing, suggestive of under-collecting. The website editors suggest a State Rank of S4S5.
HabitatBogs, montane seeps, streamhead seepages in Longleaf Pine communities, mossy bottomland forests; typically with Sphagnum moss.
See also Habitat Account for General Herbaceous Peatlands
PhenologyFlowering and fruiting May-June.
IdentificationCarex leptalea is notable for its very slender flowering stems and leaves. Var. harperi can be told from var. leptalea by its larger spikes, larger perigynia (3.4-4.9 mm long vs. 2.5-3.5 mm in var. leptalea), and whitish female scales (vs. pale brown with green midrib).
Taxonomic CommentsFNA does not split out the varieties of this wide-ranging species, saying that more research is needed to determine patterns of variation. For the time being we will follow Weakley (2018).

The genus Carex is the largest in North America, and among the largest in the world. In temperate and boreal regions, Carex is often the dominant or co-dominant ground layer in many habitats. Seeds (achenes) are valuable food for birds and small mammals, while foliage is used by birds and mammals to make nests and as food by mammals. Species of Carex often look vastly different from one another -- spikes erect vs. drooping, tiny inflorescence vs. whopping, culms leafy vs. naked, perigynia beaked vs. beakless, stems densely bunched vs. single, etc. The genus has been divided into many sections (or groups), based on shared characters; some taxonomists have suggested that these be different genera, but that proves unworkable (so far). All Carex share the feature of a perigynium (an outer covering) which completely surrounds the achene (seed). This covering may fit tightly or loosely (like a small bladder), depending on which group or species. Details of perigynia shape, ornamentation, presence and size of beak, number of striations (or veins) are all important ID features. In recent years Rob Naczi and colleagues have stressed the importance of arrangement of perigynia -- whether spiral (3+ ranks) or distichous (2-ranked) -- and have named a number of new species as well as split off some older synonyms. Therefore, RAB's (1968) key, excellent for its time, can only be used in a general way today. Members of some sections of Carex are difficult to key out (notably Ovales, Laxiflorae, Griseae); this is in part due to variation among individuals of a species, or failings of the key. FNA has drawings of most species and some species may be found in two or more places within a key, to acount for variability. New species to NC, and new to science(!), continue to be found in NC.
Other Common Name(s)Flaccid Sedge
State RankS3 [S4S5]
Global RankG5
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