Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Purple Sedge - Carex purpurifera   Mackenzie
Members of Cyperaceae:
Members of Carex with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 5 » Order Cyperales » Family Cyperaceae
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DistributionKnown only from the southern Mountains at low elevations. However, it does occur in the extreme southwestern VA mountains; yet the gap in NC montane records north of Haywood County is definitely real.

Western VA and KY south to western SC, northern GA, and northern AL.
AbundanceUncommon, but certainly not rare in its small NC range, as the NCNHP database has 28 records, all considered extant; and thus they give it a State Rank of S3, despite records for just 7 counties. It is considered as Significantly Rare.
HabitatCove forests and other rich mesic hardwoods, usually in calcareous or mafic soils.
PhenologyFlowering and fruiting April to June.
IdentificationPurple Sedge stems may reach as tall as 1.5 feet, from a tuft of basal leaves. The basal leaf sheaths are bright red or red-purple. From C. manhartii it can be told by the long stalk (3.1-5.4 cm long vs. 1.2-3.2 cm long in that species) of the male spike.
Taxonomic CommentsC. manhartii was split off from C. purpurifera in 1985.

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)Purple Wood Sedge
State RankS3
Global RankG4?
State StatusSR-P
US Status
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
Photo Gallery
B.A. SorrieSame data Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC
B.A. SorrieJackson County, AL, Paint Rock Preserve, base of limestone ledge, April 2019. Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC
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