Description & Overview

A delicate, little, low-maintenance sedge with superior adaptability, and one of the few sedges that grows well in dry, shady areas! The thin, grass-like leaves form a rounded, mounded green clump of foliage that can add interest to just about any landscape. Inconspicuous greenish-white fertile spikes appear in mid to late spring. Once fertilized, the spikes begin to show green seeds that mature to a dark brown in early summer. Bristleleaf Sedge may also be known as Ivory Sedge or Ebony Sedge.

Core Characteristics

Category: Grasses

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 2

Mature Height: 8 inches

Mature Spread: 12 inches

Growth Rate: Slow

Growth Form: Clump - forming, slow - spreading

Light Requirements: Partial Shade to Full Shade

Site Requirements: Average - dry, well - drained

Flower: Greenish - white

Bloom Period: May – June

Foliage: Green

Fall Color: Yellow

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Late spring - early summer, green matures to dark brown

Suggested Uses

As a native to Wisconsin, Bristleleaf Sedge is known to grow in areas with sharp drainage, such as Alvar (limestone plain with thin or no soil) habitats on limestone rock outcroppings, cedar glades, fens, stable dunes, and rock crevices in part to full shade.

Sedges can easily be incorporated into shadier meadows, fields, and prairies. Sedge meadows are similar to a rain garden or wetland but on a larger scale. Typically these habitats are wet in late winter through spring, and little to no standing water remains in summer.

Bristleaf Sedge provides excellent habitat for migrating and nesting birds, as well as wetland species. Plant amongst wildflowers and other grasses to increase diversity.

Carex eburnea can tolerate wet soils in spring and the near-dry conditions of summer, making this a great option for well-draining rain gardens, or sedge meadows.

Many native gardens are heavier on the forb side of flora, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but why not add even more biodiversity with sedges? The clumps of porcupine-like leaves add a unique texture that can be integrated with those forbs. Rock gardens provide this plant with the sharp drainage it needs and can add a constant green statement in any garden setting.

Bristleleaf Sedge is a clump-forming plant that will spread slowly by rhizomes. This habit makes this plant a great alternative to grass; plus it grows in the shade!

A delicate, little, low-maintenance sedge with superior adaptability, and one of the few sedges that grows well in dry, shady areas! The thin, grass-l…

Wildlife Value

Sedges as a genus, provide food and shelter to many species. Songbirds such as Towhees, Woodcock, Song Sparrows, Cardinals, Wild Turkey, Greater Prairie Chickens, and Swamp Sparrows enjoy the seeds.

Leaf beetles and grasshoppers consume the leaves, along with various moths, skippers, and butterflies. It should be noted that many sources list a particular sedge as an insect’s host plant. In many cases, while it is likely other sedges will suffice, there is insufficient documentation. Though none specify Bristleleaf Sedge, the insects that use sedges (Carex) as their host plant include Mulberry Moth (Poanes massasoit), Duke’s Skipper (Euphyes dukesi), Broad-winged Skipper (Poanes viator), American Ear Moths (Amphipoea americana), Eyed Brown (Satyrodes eurydice), Appalachian Skipper (Satyrodes appalachia), Dion Skipper (Euphyes dion), Two-spotted Skipper (Euphyes bimacula), Henry’s marsh Moth (Simyra insularis), Dun Skipper (Euphyes vestris), Reniform Celaena Moth (Helotropha reniformis), Virginia Ctenucha Moth (Ctenucha virginica), Borered Apamea Moth (Apamea sordens finitima), Jutta Arctic Moth(Oeneis jutta), Tufted Sedge Moth (Hypocoena inquinata), Snowy Dart (Anicla illapsa), Slant-lined Owlet (Macrochilo absorptalis), Kidney spotted Rustic Moth (Heltropha reniformis), and the Ponside Crambid Moth (Elophila icciusalis).

Maintenance Tips

While there is no real need to do so, you may cut back the foliage to a couple of inches in late winter.

A delicate, little, low-maintenance sedge with superior adaptability, and one of the few sedges that grows well in dry, shady areas! The thin, grass-l…

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes

Failure to provide less than excellent drainage will reduce the lifespan of this plant significantly.

Leaf Lore

The genus Carex is Latin meaning “cutter” in reference to the sharp leaves and stem edges (rushes are round but sedges have edges) found on most plants.

The specific epithet eburnea means “ivory-white.”

Wisconsin has about 30,000 acres of moderate to high-quality sedge meadows, less than 3% of the 1,135,000 acres estimated to be present prior to settlement.

There are about 4,000 species in the sedge family

Cyperaceae, and the genus, Carex, holds about 2,000 of those species.

Companion Plants

Try pairing with other shade-loving sedges such as Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica), Common Wood Sedge (Carex blanda), or Eastern Star Sedge (Carex radiata).

Associate species in the natural habitats of Bristleleaf Sedge include Upland White Goldenrod (Solidago ptarmicoides), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), Kalm’s St. John’s Wort (Hypericum kalmianum), Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea), Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis), Side-oats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), White Spruce (Picea glauca), Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), and Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis).

A delicate, little, low-maintenance sedge with superior adaptability, and one of the few sedges that grows well in dry, shady areas! The thin, grass-l…
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Written by Beth DeLain