FWS Focus



Family: Sedge (Cyperaceae)

Federal Status: Endangered, listed January 23, 2002

Best Search Time: mid April through mid June


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. 

Scientific Name

Carex lutea
Common Name
golden sedge
sulphur sedge
FWS Category
Flowering Plants

Location in Taxonomic Tree


Identification Numbers



Characteristic category



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.


Land on which the natural dominant plant forms are grasses and forbs.


A dense growth of trees and underbrush covering a large tract.


The land near a shore.


Areas such as marshes or swamps that are covered often intermittently with shallow water or have soil saturated with moisture.

Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Size & Shape

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 structure
Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish cleaning table, satellite dish/mount, or well head.

Learn more about 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.



All known populations of Golden sedge occur in the northeast Cape Fear River watershed in Pender and Onslow counties in North Carolina.

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