Archives for July 2017

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.


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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.