Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Awl-fruit Sedge - Carex stipata   Muhlenberg ex Willdenow
Members of Cyperaceae:
Members of Carex with account distribution info or public map:
Google Images
Section 5 » Order Cyperales » Family Cyperaceae
AuthorMuhlenberg ex Willdenow
DistributionStatewide, with scattered small gaps that should be filled in over time.

Newf. to AK, south to central FL, AL, and CA.
AbundanceFrequent essentially statewide. The State Rank is clearly S5, and not S3S4.
HabitatFreshwater marshes, swamp forests, maritime interdune swamp forests, wet ditches.
PhenologyFlowering and fruiting May-June.
IdentificationThis is a coarse sedge (to 3.5 feet tall) with yellowish or yellow-green inflorescences up to 10 cm (4 inches) long. The perigynia beaks make the inflorescence appear bristly or spikey. Var. stipata is told from var. maxima by leaves less than 10 mm wide (vs. 8-15 wide), and perigynia beaks less than 2.6 mm long (vs. greater than 3 mm long).
Taxonomic CommentsThere are two varieties in the state -- the nominate var. stipata, which occurs mainly in the mountains and Piedmont; and var. maxima, which is mainly found in the Coastal Plain and the eastern Piedmont.

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)Prickly Sedge
State RankS3S4 [S5]
Global RankG5
State Status
US Status
USACE-agcpOBL link
USACE-empOBL link
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
Photo Gallery
B.A. SorriePiedmont, rich roadside, Glendon Road at McLendon's Creek, May 2015. MoorePhoto_natural

View Mapping Selection Options
Select a source
Select an occurrence type