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Genus Carex Family Cyperaceae

Synonyms: Uncinia APNI*

Description: Perennial herbs, tufted or with creeping rhizome, monoecious, more 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, in some species ( the Uncinia clade) with hook-like tip of rachilla protruding beyond the perigynium (utricle) in the female spikelets. 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).

L. Elkan

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. 55 native species (c. 30 species endemic), c. 23 naturalised species (often from garden escapes), 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 - and (2021 doi: 10.1111/jse.12722) for details.

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 axis of the spikelet is conspicuously elongated beyond the apex of the perigynium, ending in a hook that walkers know all too well, in species formerly included in Uncinia. 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) and later updates, including the addition of species formerly in Uncinia. 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. Various species are being introduced in horticulture and may well become naturalised in more temperate regions. Hybrids seem to be much less common in Australia than in the Northern Hemisphere.

Text by K. L. Wilson (1993); edited KL Wilson (2011, 2014, July 2016, Aug 2017, May 2018, Jan 2019, February 2024)
Taxon concept: Flora of NSW vol. 4 (1993); KL Wilson, Telopea 6(4): 569-572 (1996)

 Key to the species 
1Axis of spikelet protruding with a conspicuous hooked apex beyond the perigynium (utricle) (formerly genus Uncinia)41
Axis of spikelet not protruding or hook-like2
2Style 3-fid; nut trigonous3
Style 2-fid (rarely some styles 3-fid within an inflorescence in Carex gaudichaudiana); nut lenticular or plano-convex
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3Inflorescence of a single spike, less than 1.5 cm long4
Spikes several to numerous; inflorescence 3–90 (rarely 1–3) cm long
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4Male 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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5Spike 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
6Spikes in clusters of 2–5 (or occasionally some solitary) at distant nodes7
Spikes solitary at nodes (nodes may be close together)
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7Female glumes white with greenish midrib, 1.2–1.5 mm wideCarex hubbardii
7Female glumes pale yellow-brown to red-brown with greenish midrib, 1.5–4 mm wide8
8Female 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
9Perigynia (utricles) hispid; nut with persistent enlarged disk-like junction of nut body and style-baseCarex breviculmis
Perigynia glabrous or minutely papillose, sometimes minutely hispid on the margins of the beak; nut without enlarged junction with style-base
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10Perigynia corky, with impressed nerves11
Perigynia neither corky nor with impressed nerves
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11Culms 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; perigynia 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; perigynia 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
12Leaves prominently septate-nodulose (septa less obvious when fresh); beak of perigynium with apex deeply divided into 2 stiff slender teeth c. 1 mm longCarex fascicularis
Leaves not septate-nodulose; beak of perigynium with apex truncate, split or shortly divided into 2 membranous, short but broad teeth
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13Male glumes with a mucro as long as or longer than the body of the glume; perigynia glabrousCarex brownii
Male glumes not mucronate or with mucro shorter than the body of the glume; perigynia glabrous, minutely papillose or minutely hispid on margins and beak
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14Perigynia minutely papillose, with beak to 0.3 mm long; leaf sheath and ligule occasionally red-dotted; culms 10–70 cm long15
Perigynia 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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15Terminal spike gynaecandrous; leaves shorter than or scarcely exceeding culms; perigynia 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; perigynia strongly numerous-nerved, 2.3–3 mm long
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Carex maculata
16Inflorescence 1–3 cm long, hidden amongst leaves; perigynia 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); perigynia 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
17Inflorescence of a single spike18
Spikes 2–numerous
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18Plants long-rhizomatous; female bracts 3–4 mm long; perigynium slightly hispidulous on upper margins19
Plants short-rhizomatous; female bracts 2.5–3 mm long; perigynium glabrous
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Carex cephalotes
19Female flowers above male in spike; perigynia 2.5–3 mm long, weakly several-nerved; culms 25–40 cm longCarex raleighii
Male flowers above female in spike; perigynia 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
20Spikes 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 other21
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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21At least lower spikes obviously pedicellate, drooping to spreading22
Spikes sessile to subsessile ('pedicels' may be up to 1 cm long in C. polyantha), erect to spreading
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22Perigynia 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
Perigynia minutely papillose; beak to 0.3 mm long with truncate or obliquely truncate apex; spikes solitary at nodes
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Carex lobolepis
23Leaves 4–9 mm wide; spikes mostly 3–17 cm long; perigynia nerveless or with few rather faint nervesCarex polyantha
Leaves 2–4 mm wide; spikes 0.5–6 cm long; perigynia distinctly several- to numerous-nerved
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24Uppermost spike male; inflorescence 7–18 cm long; mouth of perigynium 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 perigynium truncate, blackish, smooth, c. 0.15 mm diam
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Carex hypandra
25All spikes androgynous (male portion often not conspicuous), or upper spike(s) androgynous or male and lower spikes androgynous or occasionally female26
All spikes gynaecandrous (male portion often not conspicuous) or lower wholly female
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26Spikes 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 diameter27
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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27Perigynia glabrous, margins not wingedCarex declinata
Perigynia hispid on slightly winged margins at least near apex
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28Culms trigonous to triquetrous at least above; glumes uniformly whitish, or yellow-brown without or with very narrow whitish or hyaline margins above29
Culms terete; female glumes orange-brown with broad white or hyaline margins above
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Carex tereticaulis
29Perigynia with thickened truncate base, dark yellow-brown at maturity; inflorescence often more than 12 cm long (4–45 cm); plants forming large tussocksCarex appressa
Perigynia 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
30Inflorescence 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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31Inflorescence 2–8 cm long; perigynia winged32
Inflorescence 1–3 cm long; perigynia not winged
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32Female 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
33Perigynia 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
Perigynia 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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34Perigynia 1.8–3.2 mm in diameter, with acute base; leaves 1.5–3 mm wide; rhizome shortCarex divisa
Perigynia 1.0–1.2 mm in diameter, with narrow base; leaves to 1.7 mm wide; rhizome long
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Carex chlorantha
35Lowest involucral bract much shorter than inflorescence, glume-like or leaf-like36
Lowest involucral bract exceeding (usually by far) the whole inflorescence, leaf-like
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36Perigynia winged on upper marginsCarex leporina
Perigynia not winged on margins
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37Perigynia strongly reflexed at maturity, with smooth surface; beak about as long as the body of the perigynium, 2-fid or notched with teeth 0.25–0.5 mm longCarex echinata
Perigynia spreading at maturity, minutely hispid and colliculate near apex; beak much shorter than the body of the perigynium, truncate or shortly split abaxially
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Carex canescens
38Glumes orange-brown or pale red-brown, with more or less broad whitish or hyaline margins; perigynia never transversely wrinkled39
Glumes whitish to pale yellow-brown with green midrib; perigynia often transversely wrinkled at maturity
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39Inflorescence longer in outline than wide; culms 25–40 cm long; leaves c. 1 mm wide; perigynia 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; perigynia 3.2–4.5 mm long, 1.5–2 mm in diameter
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Carex hebes
40Perigynia with beak 0.3–1.1 mm longCarex inversa
Perigynia with beak c. 2 mm long
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Carex lophocarpa
41Female glumes persistent; perigynia hispid (formerly Uncinia sinclairii)Carex parvispica
Female glumes deciduous; perigynia glabrous
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42Leaves thickly U-shaped to crescent-shaped in cross section, tough (formerly Uncinia sulcata)Carex austrosulcata
Leaves nearly flat or broadly V-shaped or filiform, more or less soft
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43Inflorescence 3–7 cm long; spikelets more or less spread out along axis (basal internodes 5–12 mm long); fibrous bases to more or less large tussocks44
Inflorescence 0.7–3 cm long; spikelets more or less crowded on axis (may be more spread out towards base but internodes no more than c. 4 mm long); small tussocks (bases not fibrous) or culms spread out along rhizomes
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44Leaves 1.5–2.2 mm wide; nut 2.5–3 mm long, 0.8–1.3 mm diam.; hooked rachilla protruding from perigynium for 4–6.5 mm (formerly Uncinia nemoralis)Carex nemoralis
Leaves 0.5–1.0 mm wide; nut c. 2.2 mm long, c. 0.7 mm diam.; hooked rachilla protruding from perigynium for 3.5–4 mm (formerly Uncinia debilior)
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Carex debilior
45Leaves 2–3.5 mm wide; culms usually scabrous below inflorescence, 0.8–1.1 mm diam. (formerly Uncinia compacta)Carex austrocompacta
Leaves 0.5–1.8 mm wide; culms mostly smooth below inflorescence, 0.2–0.7 mm diam.
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46Stamens 3; inflorescence 1.5–2.5(–3) cm long; perigynia 1.5–1.8 mm diam.; leaves shorter than culms, 0.8–1.8 mm wide; culms 0.3–0.7 mm diam. (formerly Uncinia flaccida)Carex flaccida
Stamens 2; inflorescence 0.7–1.5 cm long; perigynia 0.8–1 mm diam.; leaves exceeding or equalling culms, 0.5–1 mm wide; culms 0.2–0.4 mm diam. (formerly Uncinia tenella)
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Carex austrotenella

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