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A Comprehensive Guide to Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoidea)

Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoidea) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to most of the continental United States and the southern provinces of Canada. This plant is a known host plant to three species of butterflies and likely a number of others. This sedge is found in moist woodlands and in open wetlands.

Taxonomy and Naming of Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoidea)

Herbarium specimen of fox sedge (Carex vulpinoidea).
Herbarium Specimen — Carex vulpinoidea Michx. Collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
Isotype specimen of fox sedge (Carex vulpinoidea).
Isotype Specimen — Carex vulpinoidea Michx. Collected in Canada (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoidea) was named and described by Andre’ Michaux, a French botanist, in 1803. It has kept the same name since. To the left, is the Isotype, which is equivalent to specimen the description of the plant was based on. The description plant was found in Canada and New England (MacKenzie 1931). (Fox sedge is related and similar to the yellow-fruit sedge (Carex annectens). This plant is a member of the Sedge Family (Cyperaceae).

Synonyms

  • Carex setacea Dewey
  • Carex vulpinoidea var. pycnocephala F.J. Herm.

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Carex, means cutter in Latin and refers to the edges of the sedge (Missouri Botanical Garden). This goes with the saying, “sedges have edges and grasses do not.” The species name, vulpinoidea, is Latin for fox and is in reference to the foxtail-like appearance of the fruits.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name refers to the foxtail appearance of the fruits. Other alternative names for this plant include American Fox Sedge and common fox sedge, for the American origin of the species and its abundance in the landscape. Brown fox sedge refers to the color of the fruits.

Physical Description of Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoidea)

Plant of fox sedge (Carex vulpinoidea).
Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Description

  • Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Height: tufted plant that grows to 3.5 feet tall
  • Leaves: tufted leaves with a width up to 5 mm that spread out
  • Stem: this plant is stemless
  • Flower Color: green
  • Blooming period: June to August
  • Fruiting type and period: red-brown achene that develops around July to August.

Range of Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoidea) in the United States and Canada

Range map of fox sedge (Carex vulpiniodea) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2015. North American Plant Atlas. (https://bonap.net/napa). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2015. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)].

This sedge is native to all of the continental United States, except Utah, and the southern provinces of Canada.

Habitat

Wet meadow habitat in NC.
Wet Meadow Habitat — “scene wet meadow Mason Farms ncwetlands KG (27)” by ncwetlands.org is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

This sedge is often found growing in wet meadows, ditches, roadsides, swamps, and water edges.

Hosted Insects

Broad-winged skipper (Poanes viator) on flower.
“SKIPPER, BROAD-WINGED (Poanes viator) (6-4-2017) railroad ditch road, great dismal swamp nwr, virginia-08” by Sloalan is marked with CC0 1.0.

This sedge is a host in general to skipper butterflies, and in particular, the broad-winged skipper (Poanes viator) since this species utilizes sedges that are in wetlands (Shapiro 1971). It also hosts the Eyed Brown (Satyrodes eurydice) and the Sordid Wainscot (Hypocoena inquinata) (Jersey-Friendly Yards).

Other Supported Wildlife

House sparrow on log.
House Sparrow — Mathias Appel, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The fruits (nutlets) of this sedge attract various wetland birds and food for other insects.

References

  • MacKenzie, Kenneth Kent. 1931. North American Flora – Poales. New York: New York Botanical Garden.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.