Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Cattail Sedge - Carex typhina   Michaux
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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DistributionMostly the central and eastern Piedmont, and in the Coastal Plain along brownwater rivers; a few records in the southern Mountains. Seemingly absent in the upper Piedmont and most of the Mountains.

ME and Que. to southern MN, south to GA, northwestern FL, and TX.
AbundanceFrequent to common in the central-eastern Piedmont and brownwater parts of the Coastal Plain; rare in the Mountains.
HabitatBottomland forests and swamp forests, in brownwater floodplains.
See also Habitat Account for Rich Wet Hardwood Forests
PhenologyFlowering and fruiting May-August.
IdentificationWith its 1-3 large female spikes boldly held at the top of the plant, Cattail Sedge attracts attention. Carex squarrosa and C. typhina share habitats and may occur together; C. squarrosa differs in having broadly elliptical to sub-globose spikes (vs. ovate-cylindric -- cylindric but a bit narrower towards the tip -- in C. typhina).
Taxonomic CommentsNone

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)Common Cattail Sedge
State RankS4 [S4S5]
Global RankG5
State Status
US Status
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B.A. SorriePiedmont, floodplain of McLendon's Creek E of Glendon Road, May 2015. MoorePhoto_natural

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