Golden Sedge (Carex lutea)
Family: Sedge (Cyperaceae)
Federal Status: Endangered, listed January 23, 2002
Best Search Time: mid April through mid June
Description: Golden sedge is a perennial member of the sedge family (Cyperaceae) known only from North Carolina. Fertile culms (stems) may reach 39.4 inches (in) (1 meter; m) or more in height, but are typically 19.7 in (0.5 m) or less in length. The yellowish green leaves are grass-like, with those of the culm mostly basal and up to 11 in (28 centimeters; cm) in length, while those of the vegetative shoots may reach a length of 25.6 in (65 cm). Fertile culms produce two to four flowering spikes (multiple flowering structure with flowers attached to the stem), with the terminal spike being male and the one to three lateral spikes being female. Lateral spikes are subtended by leaf-like bracts (a much-reduced leaf). The male spike is about 0.8 – 1.6 in (2 - 4 cm) long, 0.06 – 0.1 in (1.5 - 2.5 millimeters; mm) wide, with a peduncle (stalk) about 0.4 – 2.4 in (1 - 6 cm) long. Female spikes are round to elliptic, about 0.4 – 0.6 in (1 - 1.5 cm) long and 0.4 in (1 cm) wide. The upper female spike is sessile (not stalked; sitting), while lower female spikes, if present, have peduncles typically 0.2 – 1.8 in (0.5 - 4.5 cm) long. When two to three female spikes are present, each is separated from the next, along the culm, by 1.8 – 7 in (4.5 - 18 cm). The inflated perigynia (sac which encloses the ovary) are bright yellow at flowering and about 0.16 – 0.20 in (4 - 5 mm) long. The perigynia are out-curved and spreading, with the lowermost in a spike strongly reflexed (turned downward). Golden sedge is most readily identified from mid-April to mid-June during flowering and fruiting. It is distinguished from other Carex species that occur in the same habitat by its bright yellow color (particularly the female spikes), by its height and slenderness, and especially by the out-curved crowded perigynia, the lowermost of which are reflexed.
Habitat: Golden sedge grows in sandy soils overlying coquina limestone deposits, where the soil pH is unusually high for this region, typically between 5.5 and 7.2. Soils supporting the species are very wet to periodically shallowly inundated. The species prefers the ecotone (narrow transition zone between two diverse ecological communities) between the pine savanna and adjacent wet hardwood or hardwood/conifer forest. Most plants occur in the partially shaded savanna/swamp where occasional to frequent fires favor an herbaceous ground layer and suppress shrub dominance. Other species with which this sedge grows include tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens), red maple (Acer rubrum var. trilobum), wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera var. cerifera), colic root (Aletris farinosa), and several species of beakrush (Rhynchospora spp.). At most sites, Golden sedge shares its habitat with Cooley's meadowrue (Thalictrum cooleyi), another federally endangered plant species, and with Thorne's beakrush (Rhynchospora thornei), a species of concern.
Distribution: All known populations of Golden sedge occur in the northeast Cape Fear River watershed in Pender and Onslow counties in North Carolina.
Threats: The remaining populations of Golden sedge are currently threatened by habitat alteration including fire suppression, conversion of its limited habitat for residential, commercial, or industrial development, highway and utility expansion, right-of-way management with herbicides, and wetland drainage activities associated with silviculture, agriculture and development projects.
Buchanan, M.F. and J.T. Finnegan. 2010. Natural Heritage Program List of the Rare Plant Species of North Carolina. NC Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh, NC.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1999. Proposed Endangered Status for Carex lutea (Golden Sedge). Federal Register 64(157): 44470-44475.
- Boyer, M. 1992. Carex lutea sp. nov. in ed.: proposed for Endangered status. Status report by N.C. Plant Conservation Program, N.C. Department of Agriculture, Raleigh, NC.
- Buchanan, M.A., and J.T. Finnegan. 2010. Natural Heritage Program list of the rare plant species of North Carolina. Natural Heritage Program, Division of Parks and Recreation, North Carolina Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources, Raleigh, NC.
- Derieg, N.J., A. Sangaumphai and L.P. Bruederle. 2008. Genetic diversity and endemism in North American Carex section Ceratocystis (Cyperaceae). American Journal of Botany 95(10): 1287-1296.
- Glover, L. 1994. Carex lutea: alive and well in Pender County, North Carolina. Report prepared by the North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Durham, NC.
- LeBlond, R. 1998. Supplement to the status survey for Carex lutea. Unpublished report submitted to the Asheville Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Asheville, NC.
- LeBlond, R. 1996. Status survey for Carex lutea LeBlond. Unpublished report submitted to the Asheville Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Asheville, NC.
- LeBlond, R.J. 1994. New plant species confirmed in North Carolina. The Steward, Vol. 8 No. 11, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, DEHNR, Raleigh, NC.
- LeBlond, R.J. 1994. Secrets from a sweet savanna. Natural Diversity, N.C. Natural Heritage Program, DPR, DEHNR, Raleigh, NC.
- LeBlond, R.J., A.S. Weakley, A.A. Reznicek, and W.J. Crins. 1994. Carex lutea (Cyperaceae), a rare new coastal plain endemic from North Carolina. Sida 16:153-161.
- North Carolina Department of Agriculture. Endangered plant species list. 02 NCAC 48F .0301
- Schafale, M. 1994. Inventory of longleaf pine natural communities in North Carolina. Natural Heritage Program, Division of Parks and Recreation, North Carolina Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources, Raleigh, NC.
- Schafale, M., and A. Weakley. 1990. Classification of the natural communities of North Carolina (third approximation). Natural Heritage Program, Division of Parks and Recreation, North Carolina Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources, Raleigh, NC.
- Weakley, A.S., K.D. Patterson, S. Landall, M. Gallyoun,. 1996. International classification of ecological communities: terrestrial vegetation of the southeastern U.S. Working draft of April 1996, The Nature Conservancy Southeast Regional Office, Chapel Hill, NC.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1999. Proposed endangered status for Carex lutea (Golden Sedge). Federal Register 64(157): 44470-44475.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2002. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; endangered status for Carex lutea (Golden Sedge). Federal Register 67(15): 3120-3126.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2009. Cooley’s Meadowrue (Thalictrum cooleyi) 5-year review: summary and evaluation. Raleigh, NC.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2011. Designation of critical habitat for Carex lutea (Golden Sedge). Federal Register 76(40): 11086-11111.
For More Information on Golden Sedge...
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Environmental Conservation Online System
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service Plants Database
- Center for Plant Conservation species profile
- Flora of North America
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium
Dale Suiter, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, 919-856-4520 ext. 18
Species profile revised on July 26, 2011.