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Sheathed Sedge

Carex vaginata

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Cyperaceae (Sedge)
Also in this family:
American Galingale, Birdsfoot Sedge, Black Alpine Sedge, Black Bog-rush, Bladder Sedge, Bog Sedge, Bottle Sedge, Bristle Club-rush, Bristle Sedge, Broad-leaved Cotton-grass, Brown Beak-sedge, Brown Bog-rush, Chestnut Rush, Close-headed Alpine Sedge, Club Sedge, Common Club-rush, Common Cotton-grass, Common Sedge, Common Spike-rush, Curved Sedge, Deergrass, Dioecious Sedge, Distant Sedge, Divided Sedge, Dotted Sedge, Downy-fruited Sedge, Dwarf Sedge, Dwarf Spike-rush, Estuarine Sedge, False Fox Sedge, False Sedge, Few-flowered Sedge, Few-flowered Spike-rush, Fibrous Tussock Sedge, Fingered Sedge, Flat Sedge, Flea Sedge, Floating Club-rush, Gingerbread Sedge, Glaucous Sedge, Great Fen Sedge, Greater Pond Sedge, Greater Tussock Sedge, Green-ribbed Sedge, Grey Club-rush, Grey Sedge, Hair Sedge, Hairy Sedge, Haresfoot Sedge, Hare's-tail Cotton-grass, Heath Sedge, Hop Sedge, Large Yellow Sedge, Lesser Pond Sedge, Lesser Tussock Sedge, Long-bracted Sedge, Many-stalked Spike-rush, Mountain Bog Sedge, Needle Spike-rush, Northern Deergrass, Northern Spike-rush, Oval Sedge, Pale Sedge, Pendulous Sedge, Perennial Sedge, Pill Sedge, Prickly Sedge, Remote Sedge, Rock Sedge, Round-headed Club-rush, Russet Sedge, Salt Sedge, Sand Sedge, Scorched Alpine Sedge, Sea Club-rush, Slender Club-rush, Slender Cotton-grass, Slender Sedge, Slender Spike-rush, Slender Tufted Sedge, Smooth-stalked Sedge, Soft-leaved Sedge, Spiked Sedge, Spring Sedge, Star Sedge, Starved Wood Sedge, Stiff Sedge, String Sedge, Sweet Galingale, Tall Bog Sedge, Tawny Sedge, Thin-spiked Wood Sedge, Triangular Club-rush, True Fox Sedge, Tufted Sedge, Water Sedge, White Beak-sedge, White Sedge, Wood Club-rush, Wood Sedge, Yellow Sedge
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
1 metre tall
Bogs, fens, gardens, grassland, meadows, mountains, riverbanks, riversides, rocky places, swamps, waterside, wetland.

Brown, no petals
An erect terminal male brown flower spike. 1 or 2 lateral female spikes.
An achene.
Yellowish-green, simple, linear, alternate leaves, up to 5mm wide. Glaucous.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Carex vaginata, also known as sheathed sedge, is a species of sedge native to Europe, Asia, and North America. It is a perennial herb growing up to 100 cm tall. It typically grows in moist to wet habitats such as meadows, fens, and along the margins of lakes and rivers, as well as in bogs and swamps. The leaves are narrow and glossy, and the flowers are small and arranged in spikes. The fruit is a small achene. This species is a valuable plant in wetland ecosystem and it's important for wildlife habitat, water quality and erosion control. It's also used in landscaping and gardening as an ornamental plant. It's also a food plant for the caterpillars of some species of moths, such as the sedge pug. Carex vaginata is known for its unique sheath that surrounds the base of the stem, which is why it is commonly known as Sheathed Sedge. It can be used in landscaping projects such as rain gardens and as an accent plant in meadows and other naturalized areas.


Sheathed Sedge, scientifically known as Carex vaginata, is a unique plant species that is commonly found in wetland areas across the Northern Hemisphere. It belongs to the sedge family (Cyperaceae) and is a popular choice among landscapers and gardeners due to its adaptability and aesthetic appeal.

Physical Characteristics

Sheathed Sedge typically grows in clumps and has a height of around 30-100 cm. The leaves are long and narrow, measuring about 2-4 mm in width and 30-60 cm in length. The stems are triangular and smooth, with a sheath-like structure at the base of the leaves. The plant blooms from May to July, producing a single inflorescence that is about 1-8 cm long.

Habitat and Distribution

Sheathed Sedge is widely distributed across the Northern Hemisphere, spanning from Alaska to Greenland, as well as northern regions of Europe and Asia. It is commonly found in wetland habitats, such as fens, marshes, bogs, and swamps. It can also grow in areas with poor drainage and is frequently found in disturbed areas like roadside ditches and old fields.

Ecological Importance

Sheathed Sedge plays a critical role in the ecosystem, particularly in wetland areas. Its extensive root system helps to stabilize soil and prevent erosion, which is especially important in wetland environments where soil is easily washed away. The plant also provides important habitat for wildlife, including various bird species and small mammals. It serves as a food source for grazing animals, and its seeds are also an important source of food for many species of waterfowl.

Cultural Significance

Sheathed Sedge has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties, especially in traditional Chinese medicine. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and antitumor properties. In addition to its medicinal uses, the plant has also been used for various other purposes, such as weaving baskets and mats.

Landscaping and Gardening

Sheathed Sedge is a popular choice for gardeners and landscapers due to its adaptability and aesthetic appeal. It can be used in a variety of landscape settings, including rain gardens, wetland restorations, and pond edges. The plant is easy to grow and maintain, and it is relatively tolerant of a range of soil types and moisture levels.

Sheathed Sedge is a fascinating plant species with significant ecological and cultural importance. Its unique physical characteristics, adaptability, and aesthetic appeal make it a popular choice for landscaping and gardening, while its role in stabilizing soil and providing important habitat for wildlife make it a critical component of many wetland ecosystems.


Sheathed Sedge can be propagated through seed or division. The plant produces small, oblong seeds that can be collected and sown in the fall. Seedlings can be transplanted once they are large enough to handle. The plant can also be propagated through division, which involves separating the plant's rhizomes and replanting them in new areas.

Uses in Wetland Restoration

Sheathed Sedge is an important component of wetland restoration projects, as it can help to stabilize soil and prevent erosion in these sensitive environments. The plant's extensive root system helps to hold soil in place, while its ability to tolerate a range of moisture levels makes it a good choice for wetland areas that experience fluctuating water levels. In addition, Sheathed Sedge provides important habitat for wetland wildlife, including birds, amphibians, and small mammals.

Conservation Status

While Sheathed Sedge is widely distributed across the Northern Hemisphere, certain populations of the plant are considered threatened or endangered. Habitat loss and degradation, as well as invasive species, are some of the main threats to the plant's survival. In some regions, efforts are underway to protect and restore Sheathed Sedge populations through wetland restoration and conservation programs.

Sheathed Sedge is a versatile and important plant species that plays a critical role in wetland ecosystems. Its physical characteristics, ecological and cultural significance, as well as its adaptability and aesthetic appeal, make it a popular choice for gardeners and landscapers, as well as a vital component of wetland restoration projects. Efforts to protect and conserve Sheathed Sedge populations are essential to ensure the continued health and biodiversity of wetland ecosystems.

Plant Anatomy

Sheathed Sedge has a unique anatomical feature that allows it to grow and thrive in wetland environments. The plant's roots and rhizomes are capable of absorbing oxygen directly from the air, which is necessary for survival in waterlogged soil. In addition, the plant's stem has air spaces that allow for gas exchange and buoyancy.

Importance to Indigenous Communities

Sheathed Sedge has cultural significance for some indigenous communities in North America. The plant has been used for weaving baskets and mats, as well as for making cordage and other useful items. In some traditions, Sheathed Sedge is associated with protection, healing, and strength.

Ecosystem Services

Sheathed Sedge provides a range of ecosystem services that are important for human well-being. In addition to stabilizing soil and providing habitat for wildlife, the plant helps to purify water by absorbing excess nutrients and filtering pollutants. Wetland areas that are dominated by Sheathed Sedge are also important for carbon storage and sequestration, which helps to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Invasive Species

While Sheathed Sedge is a valuable plant species, some non-native species of sedge have become invasive in wetland environments, competing with native species and disrupting ecosystem processes. It is important to identify and control invasive species in order to protect the health and biodiversity of wetland ecosystems.

In conclusion, Sheathed Sedge is a remarkable plant species that has ecological, cultural, and practical importance. Its ability to thrive in wetland environments and provide important ecosystem services makes it a critical component of many wetland ecosystems. Efforts to protect and conserve Sheathed Sedge populations, as well as control invasive species, are essential to ensure the continued health and well-being of both natural and human communities.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

Click to open an Interactive Map