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Genus Carex Family Cyperaceae

Description: Perennial herbs, tufted or with creeping rhizome, monoecious, rarely dioecious. Culms mostly trigonous, rarely noded above base, often covered at the base by persistent leaf sheaths or their fibrous remains.

Leaves mostly basal, 0–several cauline; ligule present.

Inflorescence panicle-like, raceme-like or spike-like, more rarely reduced to a single spike. Spikes 1–many, terete, sessile or peduncled, with few–many spikelets, wholly male, wholly female, or bisexual; involucral bracts leaf-like or occasionally glume-like, sometimes absent. Spikelets unisexual, consisting of a solitary flower, in the axils of the spirally arranged glumes. Stamens 3. Gynoecium enclosed in a bottle-shaped prophyll (perigynium or utricle); style 2- or 3-fid, protruding through the small terminal mouth of the perigynium/utricle. Perigynia (utricles) membranous, papery, leathery, or corky, 2-keeled, narrowed to a beak with truncate or 2-fid apex.

Nut trigonous or lenticular, enclosed in perigynium (also known as a utricle).

Photo Tanja Lenz

Photo Karen L Wilson

Photo D. Hardin

Photo L. von Richter

Distribution and occurrence: World: >2000 species, cosmopolitan, mostly outside the tropics. Australia: c. 75 species (c. 20 species endemic), all States except N.T. The tribe Cariceae is currently being studied world-wide by the Global Carex Group and all genera (including Uncinia) are now included in an expanded monophyletic genus Carex - see Global Carex Group (2015 - DOI: 10.1111/boj.12298) for details.

Hybrids seem to be much less common in Australia than in the Northern Hemisphere. The inflorescence structure is complex in this genus. What are here termed spikes and spikelets have in the past often be called, respectively, spikelets and flowers. Note: glume length includes mucro; perigynium (utricle) length includes the beak (which is described in the terms used by Jermy et al., 1982); leaves are often not obviously septate-nodulose until dried! The online key is based on the updated key published in Telopea 6(1): 573-577 (1996), plus correction in Telopea 7(1): 95 (1997). The European species Carex divisa is included in the key but no description is given since it is not known to have become naturalised in NSW. It is, however, naturalised in Vic, Tas, SA and WA so could occur in southern NSW.

Text by K. L. Wilson (1993); edited KL Wilson (2011, 2014, July 2016)
Taxon concept:

 Key to the species 
1Style 3-fid; nut trigonous2
Style 2-fid (rarely some styles 3-fid within an inflorescence in Carex gaudichaudiana); nut lenticular or plano-convex16
2Inflorescence of a single spike, less than 1.5 cm long3
Spikes several to numerous; inflorescence 3–90 (rarely 1–3) cm long
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3Male part of the spike as long as or longer than the female part and not less conspicuousCarex capillacea
Male part of the spike from slightly to much shorter than the female part, always inconspicuous and usually the spike appears to be wholly female
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4Spike 7–12 mm long, with many female flowers; lowest bract glume-likeCarex cephalotes
Spike 4–5 mm long, with about 3–6 female flowers; lowest bract leaf-like, exceeding the spike
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Carex archeri
5Spikes in clusters of 2–5 (or occasionally some solitary) at distant nodes6
Spikes solitary at nodes (nodes may be close together)
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6Female glumes white with greenish midrib, 1.2–1.5 mm wideCarex hubbardii
6Female glumes pale yellow-brown to red-brown with greenish midrib, 1.5–4 mm wide7
7Female glumes yellow-brown to red-brown, 3.5–5.5 mm long, 1.5–2 mm wide; spikes lax-flowered below, rather dense-flowered above, 3–5 mm thick in mature fruiting stage, upper gynaecandrous (sometimes with male apices), uppermost with a long, usually very long, male basal part, the lower gynaecandrous or femaleCarex longebrachiata
Female glumes pale yellow-brown, 4–8 mm long, 2.5–4 mm wide; spikes dense-flowered, 5–8 mm thick in mature fruiting stage, the uppermost 1–4 wholly male, rarely with a few female flowers in the terminal spike, the remainder wholly female or with male bases and/or apices
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Carex iynx
8Utricles hispid; nut with persistent enlarged disk-like junction of nut body and style-baseCarex breviculmis
Utricles glabrous or minutely papillose, sometimes minutely hispid on the margins of the beak; nut without enlarged junction with style-base
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9Utricles corky, with impressed nerves10
Utricles neither corky nor with impressed nerves
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10Culms extending above the leaf sheaths for a considerable distance; male spikes 3–15; female spikes mostly spread at some distance from one another; female glumes mucronate, dark to very dark red-brown; utricles 4–5 mm long, yellow-brown usually tinged dark red-brown; leaves with marginal prickles more or less regularly antrorseCarex bichenoviana
Culms usually hidden in the leaf sheaths; male spikes 1–4; female spikes usually approximate; female glumes not mucronate, yellow-brown to red-brown; utricles 4–8 mm long, yellow-brown occasionally tinged dark red-brown; leaves with marginal prickles irregular and at 90° to leaf
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Carex pumila
11Leaves prominently septate-nodulose (septa less obvious when fresh); beak of utricle with apex deeply divided into 2 stiff slender teeth c. 1 mm longCarex fascicularis
Leaves not septate-nodulose; beak of utricle with apex truncate, split or shortly divided into 2 membranous, short but broad teeth
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12Male glumes with a mucro as long as or longer than the body of the glume; utricles glabrousCarex brownii
Male glumes not mucronate or with mucro shorter than the body of the glume; utricles glabrous, minutely papillose or minutely hispid on margins and beak
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13Utricles minutely papillose, with beak to 0.3 mm long; leaf sheath and ligule occasionally red-dotted; culms 10–70 cm long14
Utricles not minutely papillose, with beak 0.5–2 mm long; leaf sheath and ligule not red-dotted; culms 1–10 cm long
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14Terminal spike gynaecandrous; leaves shorter than or scarcely exceeding culms; utricles not or faintly nerved, 3–4.5 mm longCarex buxbaumii
Terminal spike male or at least male in the upppermost portion; leaves much exceeding culms; utricles strongly numerous-nerved, 2.3–3 mm long
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Carex maculata
15Inflorescence 1–3 cm long, hidden amongst leaves; utricles 4–6.5 mm long, glabrous, with beak 1–2 mm longCarex jackiana
Inflorescence 8–35 cm long, mostly exceeding leaves (lowest spikes may be amongst the leaves); utricles 3.3–4 mm long, minutely hispid on upper margins (occasionally glabrous), with beak 0.5–0.8 mm long
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Carex blakei
16Inflorescence of a single spike17
Spikes 2–numerous
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17Plants long-rhizomatous; female bracts 3–4 mm long; utricle slightly hispidulous on upper margins18
Plants short-rhizomatous; female bracts 2.5–3 mm long; utricle glabrous
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Carex cephalotes
18Female flowers above male in spike; utricles 2.5–3 mm long, weakly several-nerved; culms 25–40 cm longCarex raleighii
Male flowers above female in spike; utricles 5.5–7 mm long, with 8–10 strong nerves abaxially, adaxially several weak nerves or none; culms 80–160 cm long
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Carex klaphakei
19Spikes long-cylindrical (i.e. much longer than broad), mostly 2–17 cm long (rarely some as short as 0.5 cm but then glumes dark red-brown or blackish), clearly distinct and often distant from each other20
Spikes ovoid or short-cylindrical (mostly c. 0.5 cm long, occasionally to 1.5 cm long) or ovate in outline, often densely clustered in an inflorescence that is itself ovoid or short-cylindrical
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20At least lower spikes obviously pedicellate, drooping to spreading21
Spikes sessile to subsessile ('pedicels' may be up to 1 cm long in C. polyantha), erect to spreading
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21Utricle white-hispid, with beak c. 1 mm long with 2-fid or split apex; spikes clustered at nodes or rarely solitary at lower nodesCarex brunnea
Utricle minutely papillose; beak to 0.3 mm long with truncate or obliquely truncate apex; spikes solitary at nodes
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Carex lobolepis
22Leaves 4–9 mm wide; spikes mostly 3–17 cm long; utricles nerveless or with few rather faint nervesCarex polyantha
Leaves 2–4 mm wide; spikes 0.5–6 cm long; utricles distinctly several- to numerous-nerved
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23Uppermost spike male; inflorescence 7–18 cm long; mouth of utricle notched to obliquely truncate, pallid, occasionally minutely hispid, 0.2–0.3 mm diamCarex gaudichaudiana
Uppermost spike gynandrous or occasionally male; inflorescence 2–8 cm long; mouth of utricle truncate, blackish, smooth, c. 0.15 mm diam
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Carex hypandra
24All spikes androgynous (male portion often not conspicuous), or upper spike(s) androgynous or male and lower spikes androgynous or occasionally female25
All spikes gynaecandrous (male portion often not conspicuous) or lower wholly female
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25Spikes very numerous, forming a long narrow spike-like panicle 6–30 cm long, with appressed secondary branches to 4 cm long; leaves often obviously septate-nodulose; culms 2–4 mm in diameter26
Spikes 2–15 in an inflorescence, forming a short clustered panicle 0.8–3 cm long (or an interrupted spike-like panicle in C. divulsa), without secondary branches; leaves not septate-nodulose; culms to 2 mm in diameter
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26Utricle glabrous, margins not wingedCarex declinata
Utricle hispid on slightly winged margins at least near apex
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27Culms trigonous to triquetrous at least above; glumes uniformly whitish, or yellow-brown without or with very narrow whitish or hyaline margins above28
Culms terete; female glumes orange-brown with broad white or hyaline margins above
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Carex tereticaulis
28Utricle with thickened truncate base, dark yellow-brown at maturity; inflorescence often more than 12 cm long (4–45 cm); plants forming large tussocksCarex appressa
Utricle without thickened truncate base, blackish at maturity; inflorescence 3–12 cm long; culms in slender tufts spread along long rhizome
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Carex incomitata
29Inflorescence 6–18 cm long, narrow, with upper spikes contiguous but lower spikes 2–6 cm apart; rhizome short; culms tuftedCarex divulsa
Inflorescence 1–8 cm long, pyramidal or ovoid, with spikes mostly close-packed; rhizome long; culms usually solitary and spread out along rhizome
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30Inflorescence 2–8 cm long; utricle winged31
Inflorescence 1–3 cm long; utricle not winged
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31Female glumes 3.5–4.5 mm long; leaves more or less straight throughout their lengthCarex disticha
Female glumes 5–6 mm long; leaves curly towards apex
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Carex arenaria
32Utricle 5.5–7 mm long, with obtuse base, abaxial face with 8–10 strong nerves; spikes 1–3; culms 80–160 cm long, relatively soft and flexible (usually supported by surrounding plants)Carex klaphakei
Utricle 3–4 mm long, with more or less narrow stipe-like base, faces nerveless or with a few faint nerves; spikes 3–12; culms 8–80 cm long, stiffly erect
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33Utricle 1.8–3.2 mm in diameter, with acute base; leaves 1.5–3 mm wide; rhizome shortCarex divisa
Utricle 1.0–1.2 mm in diameter, with narrow base; leaves to 1.7 mm wide; rhizome long
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Carex chlorantha
34Lowest involucral bract much shorter than inflorescence, glume-like or leaf-like35
Lowest involucral bract exceeding (usually by far) the whole inflorescence, leaf-like
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35Utricle winged on upper marginsCarex leporina
Utricle not winged on margins
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36Utricles strongly reflexed at maturity, with smooth surface; beak about as long as the body of the utricle, 2-fid or notched with teeth 0.25–0.5 mm longCarex echinata
Utricles spreading at maturity, minutely hispid and colliculate near apex; beak much shorter than the body of the utricle, truncate or shortly split abaxially
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Carex canescens
37Glumes orange-brown or pale red-brown, with more or less broad whitish or hyaline margins; utricles never transversely wrinkled38
Glumes whitish to pale yellow-brown with green midrib; utricles often transversely wrinkled at maturity
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38Inflorescence longer in outline than wide; culms 25–40 cm long; leaves c. 1 mm wide; utricles 2.5–3 mm long, 1–1.4 mm in diameterCarex raleighii
Inflorescence broader in outline than long (or about the same length and breadth); culms 4–20(–35) cm long; leaves 1–2.5 mm wide; utricles 3.2–4.5 mm long, 1.5–2 mm in diameter
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Carex hebes
39Utricle with beak 0.3–1.1 mm longCarex inversa
Utricle with beak c. 2 mm long
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Carex lophocarpa

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