Friday, May 8, 2009
Spring flowers are everywhere and among them are the unsung early flowering grasses and sedges. The flowers are neither big nor colorful but charming and interesting and now is a good time to see some of them. The one I have chosen is the Pennsylvania Sedge because it is native, quite common and one of the earliest plants to flower in the spring.
Name: Pennsylvania Sedge is Carex pensylvanica. There are hundreds of species in the Carex genus. Most (i.e. around 96%) in northeast North America are native. The U.S. Forest Service sometimes calls this one Yellow Sedge, Early Sedge or just Penn Sedge.
When and where seen: I have seen Penn Sedge trailside in the Towle woods, in the Estabrook woods and along the Otterslide trail (opposite the Cranberry Bog). I have some in my back yard. It likes to grow under oaks. It can take quite a lot of sun but is also happy as a woodland understory plant. It has been in flower since mid-April – before there were leaves on the trees.
Yoga in the woods: If the grasses and sedges are the underdogs of the flowering plant world, then I think the Penn Sedge must be the downward facing dog. Like its yoga namesake, it lifts the spirit and provides a moment of rejuvenation for a person walking in the woods and a bit of a rest between other more challenging and demanding distractions.
Grasses and sedges: Grasses and sedges are similar in growth habit and can be mistaken for each other but there are tell-tale signs. One of the easy rules of thumb to remember is the phrase “sedges have edges” which refers to the triangular cross-section of the sedge stem. Grass stems are usually round. You can feel the difference if you roll a stem between your thumb and finger. Grass stems are usually hollow and they have joints at the leaf nodes. Sedge stems are usually solid and have no joints. Sedges do not have the economic importance of grasses. A large amount of the world’s food supply comes from members of the grass family in the form of grain (like wheat, oats, barley, rice, rye and corn) and in the form of meat from grass-eating animals. Sedges tend to favor wet or marshy habitats (Penn Sedge is an exception) and some, like some grasses, are attractive garden plants.
Distinguishing characteristics: The Penn Sedge is only about a foot tall. There are usually a few dead leaves from last year still attached. The new leaves are very narrow. The flowers rise a few inches above the leaves. The stems have the typical “edges” that are characteristic of sedges, and like other members of the Carex genus it has separate male and female flowers. In this case, they are both on the same flower stalk. In the flower photo, you can see the stamens right at the top. If you look at the picture online you will see the yellow pollen. The stygmas are lower down, rather curly, and practically white. A single clump of Penn Sedge can have many flower stalks.
Sources: Grasses, an Identification Guide, Lauren Brown; U.S. Forest Service at www.fs.fed.us (search for Carex pensylvanica)
Invasive Garlic Mustard
A particularly invasive plant, the Garlic Mustard, is now turning up in more places in Carlisle. You may have it on your property. Please do yourself and the whole town a favor by learning to recognize it and pulling it up before it goes to seed. It has heart-shaped leaves and small white flowers at the top of the plant. It is flowering now. If you rub the leaves you will get the characteristic smell of garlic. It is easy to pull up. If you have some on your property but are not sure of the identification, I’d be happy to come and look at it. You can see it along roadsides all around town where it never used to be. There is a lot on Stearns Street near the junction with Bedford Road and there is a lot at the entrance to Two Rod Road at Malcolm Meadows.
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