Carex: Important Non-Grass

Pronounced “K-Rex,” this genus of grass-like plant has more than 600 species in North America, 165 in the Rocky Mountain region of the USA. The differences are small and called “insignificant.” About them was once said, “possibly no group of vascular plants is less understood by range ecologists than are the sedges.”

Image of Carex Acutiformis from Wikimedia Commons

Carex Acutiformis, a variety from Europe used to decorate gardens and ponds.

A Dictionary of Plant Sciences, 3rd edition, by Oxford University Press states Carex are also known by the term sedges. They are a genus of rhizomatic perennial herbs. The stems are triangular in cross-section, solid, and leafy. The leaves are linear with a sheathing leaf base. The arrangement of the flowers on the plant varies from a branched panicle to a single spike, and is composed of unisexual flowers, usually clearly separated. The fruit produced is a small nut, which remains within a sac once created. The male flowers have 2 or 3 stamens and are generally held at the top of the flowering arrangement, often in the upper ends of the spikes. The female flowers are restricted to the bottom of the spike. Carex species ar

e found throughout the world, often as components of marshy habitats. There are roughly 1,000 species, of which a limited number are used locally as food or bedding for animals and a few are cultivated as ornamental “grasses” for gardens.

Difficult to identify and very site-specific, those of us working in Rural System see the very precise site requirements for Carex species as an open door to potential plant observations and confirmation, rather than a discovery operation, by finding the multi-factored sites of these frail animal-food sources. Carex species are food sources considered too small and too similar and too site-specific to rank with other species, ¬where farmers (rarely “range managers”) intently study profits from “grassland-like” plants.

The Carex are too easily lumped as “grasses.” I’ve had the pleasure (in approximately 1954) of being taught the diverse characteristics of these grass-like plants. I now think that with improved herbaria of the state and region (USA), new GIS site characterization, and with new imperatives for productive human-food sources from despoiled farm and mined lands of the Virginia rural areas, a meaningful, profitable, site-specific, Carex-forage production system can be created for now and the emerging faunal-future, with domestic and wild-fauna uses.

Image of Carex stricta from Wikimedia Commons

Carex stricta, a variety found throughout the Eastern United States along bodies of water.

I now imagine improved education of staff, learning about the Virginia Carex species with vastly-improved illustrations, naming the plant parts and their seasonal appearance. With education, they can achieve reduced intermixing of “just grass,” site-selection for seeding and care-to-meet-needs, and directed analyses of animal production per unit area of animal forage—invested to meet specific-animal productivity.

We know that the Carex are similar to grasses, were evaluated as being of higher protein value than blue grasses, but were ignored or discounted in the past due to their specific habitat requirements. We hypothesize we can now contest with those specific habitat requirements, with local selections, GIS-based site-selection, and quality-specific uses and results-analyses. “They, these little grasses, are ‘very-site-specific,’” says the range manager. And so are we, within Rural System. We can improve seed-source selection and make very site-specific selections to achieve intensive, cumulative, very-real, net-valued grassland management of Rural System tracts for superior forage. Much of Rural System’s superior forage would be directed at goat systems (having notably high palatability differences among Carex species) for human-youth health gains, as a currently-specific market.

We now see precisely, as if through a macroscope, a way to develop Carex centers throughout Virginia’s rural lands, create a high-quality forage specialty with great sales appeal, and work with a regional Carex organization, formed to bring raw botanical complexity and unique applications and developments on managed rural lands, to bear profitable, lasting, diverse gains for people. A staff can be built readily, within PowerPlace of Rural System, to develop a new resource under-foot for region-wide use and development… just some old non-grass patches!

For the future, food scarcity and crop growth will become an increasing concern. Feeding livestock with alternates to standard grasses, especially those higher in nutrient density that take up fewer resources per square acre to grow, will become a primary solution. If we are to keep meat on the menu, we have to invest in these plans sooner rather than later.


Rural Future: An Alternative for Society Before 2050 AD describes one system, Rural System, designed to meet the many interconnected rural problems in America, and ultimately worldwide. Visit the book page to download the full manuscript or individual chapters in .pdf format. Subscribe to the Rural System blog to receive more supplements to Rural Future on a variety of topics relating to the future of superior rural land management.

This is a supplement to Rural Future. Find other supplements in the Rural Futures Supplements category.


Allaby, M. (Ed.). ( 2012). A Dictionary of Plant Sciences (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press.

F.J. Hermann, 19760, 65, 68, Notes on Rocky Mt. Carices. Rhodora 70. 419-421.

Lewis, M.E. 1958. Carex- its distribution and importance in Utah. Brigham Young Univ., Sci. Bull. Biological Ser. I, No.2. Provo, Utah. 43 sp.





Explore the Future of Rural Business

We’re excited here at Rural System about all the new possibilities for the future of rural business! The modern farmer is breaking the mold with higher education and new technology- not to mention our farmer 10.0 could be a lady.

farmer 1.0 vs 10.0

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The invention of the tractor revolutionized farming. Horses and mules are costly, need rest, and are affected by temperature or pests. Early tractors plowed an acre in the third of the time it would take five horses to do the same work.  Today’s powerful tractors accelerate the process even further. However, the cost of tractors can easily reach over $100,000. Arguably, the use of tractors is cost-effective because of the benefits of efficiency and scale even on small farms. A great assessment of farm machinery costs can be found here.  Despite the eventual cost-savings, the upfront costs, even just a few thousand dollars, are prohibitive for some farmers.  Subsistence farmers in developing regions and farmers in impoverished areas throughout the United States struggle to afford even the most inexpensive tractor. This is a great story about how a single tractor can change a community. How can we recreate this benefit on a larger scale? A less expensive, but equally efficient, tool for plowing fields could make a big difference.

Mechanical mule - side view

The mechanical mule prototype. This model is outfitted with a low axle but can easily be scaled up to larger wheels to overcome uneven terrain.

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crop rotation diversity

Aerial view of Marsden Farm study, Boone IA. Crop abbreviations: m = maize, sb = soybean, g = small grain, a = alfalfa.
Provided thanks to a Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.

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The 3F’s of Manure Management

Chicken cartoonFor many centuries, animals and crops were produced and consumed within the same farm unit. Livestock manure, used as fertilizer and fuel, contributed to the self-sufficiency of most farms. However, in the 20th century, many farms began focusing on either livestock or crops as opposed to both. Also during this time, advances in manure-handling, treatment and disposal techniques were developed with the intention of storing and diluting the highly-concentrated nutrients before releasing it into the environment. Many current manure management techniques such as lagoon storage are only temporary relief for a long range problem. Livestock manure remains a major cause of water pollution and the difficulties of animal manure management represent significant challenges to farmers, planners, scientists and regulatory agencies of the 21st century. However, animal manure has high energy yield and profit potential if used as fertilizer, fuel, and feed. A combination of two or more of these topics may economize farm management and contribute to environmental quality. These topics are: [Read more…]