Sedges, Rushes and Grasses, Oh My!

The sawgrass of the Everglades made famous by Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ book, River of Grass, is a sedge – not a grass at all.

Grasses and grass-like plants abound in Florida and many are important as crops, habitat, lawns, and garden plants. The majority of these plants have wind-pollinated flowers, which means that they don’t need colorful petals, nectar or scents to attract insects. Even without these showy flower features, many grasses and grass-like plants can still make a significant and lush statement in your landscape.
Grasses and most grass-like plants fall into three families: sedges, rushes and grasses. Common names for plants have no rules, of course, but names for grass-like plants seem to be particularly confusing. To help you figure out some of the rules for nomenclature, this traditional rhyme may help you understand which is a grass and which is something else:

Sedges have edges.
Rushes are round.
Grasses have nodes
All the way to the ground.

Sedges (Cyperaceae): Sedges have distinctly triangular stems, which may be lined with sharp extrusions that put the bite into those edges. Some sedges have obvious leaves that arise in ranks of three – one from each side of the triangular stem. Others have short, inconspicuous leaves at the base of the floral stems. The flowers are often surrounded by three long bracts.

This is a huge family with many different species. For example, just one sedge genus, Carex, has more species than any other genus of flowering plants. Many sedges are important wetland indicators, but others grow in dry habitats. Some sedges, like the nut sedge, are noxious weeds, while others are useful additions to your landscape.

Read the entire article in the November 2010 issue

Categories: Gardening