Sunday 26 July 2020

More on Sedges... by John Handley

Just like everyone reading this post, being in lockdown, I’ve had to adjust my botanising over the recent months. In the first instance I was trying to sneak a look at plants whilst undertaking my hour of exercise – at one point trying to be inconspicuous whilst admiring the Convallaria majalis, Lily-of-the-Valley, that has naturalised within Bridgnorth Cemetery. 

Recently I’ve been able to enjoy botanising locally which has provided a respite for my family as much as me. One of the areas I’ve been exploring is Stanmore Country Park, an area that has developed from scrub after the RAF Bridgnorth Training Camp was closed in 1963. The vegetation would initially have been dominated by Salix caprea, Goat Willow, and Betula pendula, Silver Birch, and this process is still enclosing the few areas of open grassland that remain. It is an area that is commonly used by dog-walkers, including my family and I. It didn’t occur to me that the secondary woodland and grassland held much interest but encouraged by Ed Andrews, the Country Parks and Heritage Sites Manager, I decided to have a closer look. 

I was pleasantly surprised to discover a diversity of species and semi-natural habitats that are providing a great deal of benefit for local wildlife as well as a much valued space for local residents. Along with over twenty eight individual Epipactis purpurata, Violet Helleborine (is it a good year for them?) I also recorded Carex divulsa subsp. divulsa, Grey Sedge. This is regarded as a rare plant within Shropshire (Lockton & Whild, 2005). The Rare Plants of Shropshire remarks that "although this is a common species in the south of England and Ireland, Shropshire is just on the edge of its range, and it seems to occur here only as a casual.  Of the two subspecies, the only one to have been found in Shropshire is ssp. divulsa. It has been recorded on roadsides, ditch-banks, and along paths in gardens."

Carex divulsa subsp. divulsa, Grey Sedge

The other sedge that I recorded, occurring quite frequently in the better grassland on the acid, sandy soils that occur around Bridgnorth, was Carex muricata subsp. pairae, Small-fruited Prickly-sedge.  This is not to be confused with C. muricata subsp. muricata, Large-fruited Prickly-sedge, which is believed to be one of the rarest sedges in Britain, but occurs in Shropshire, discovered in 1999 by Dr Sarah Whild on limestone scree at Jones’s Rough (SJ2424).  

Grey Sedge and Small-fruited Prickly-sedge are in the subgenus Vignea where the inflorescence is more compound, and the spikes are small in comparison with those of many species in subgenus Carex.  Members are characterised by having bisexual, sessile spikes, where the female flowers have two stigmas each. As you can see from the images the two species differ markedly by the interrupted inflorescence and diamond shape of the utricles, narrowed from above and below in Small-fruited Prickly-sedge. 

Carex muricata subsp. pairae, Small-fruited Prickly-sedge

Exploring in the neighbouring monad, at a local reservoir with a boggy margin, I came across another couple of sedges.  Carex hirta, Hairy Sedge, is less discriminating than many sedges and often the first sedge to come to my attention because of its conspicuous hairiness.  In amongst the verdant vegetation of the water’s edge the swollen, golden utricles were conspicuous, although the grazing water-fowl appeared to prefer Carex disticha, Brown Sedge, which was spreading through extensive rhizomes. A single tuft of Carex pseudocyperus, Cyperus Sedge, with its pendant piano-wire peduncles and bristly inflorescence was great to see, although common in the centre and north of the county where there are more water bodies, it isn’t so common in the south of Shropshire. 

Carex hirta, Hairy Sedge showing the hairy golden utricles

Carex disticha, Brown Sedge                     Carex pseudocyperus, Cyperus Sedge

Searching within the surrounding grassland I recorded Carex pilulifera, Pill Sedge, a tufted sedge that can tolerate the drier soils in the south east of the county.  Here it was lacking the close-set male flowers which I think gives it a distinctive shape. 

Carex pilulifera, Pill Sedge 

If anyone wants to share their own botanical experiences during the last few months, do email us on


Lockton, A. J. & Whild, S. J., 2005. Rare Plants of Shropshire. 3 ed. Shropshire: Shropshire Botanical Society.

Thursday 2 July 2020

An abundance of sedges

Now that summer is in full swing we are turning our attention to sedges.  Fiona Gomersall is starting us off with her findings from a farm in south Shropshire where she found eight different species.  Sedges, always a good sign: 

"I visited a farm last winter in the Clun Valley when working as a farm advisor.  Knowing that I had an interest in botany the farmer had asked if I'd like to come back in the summer to have a look at a 'flower-rich patch' on the farm.  He wanted to know what was there and if the land qualified as a local wildlife site.  I returned a couple of weeks ago and surveyed the land as a volunteer and recorded 18 axiophytes which included the three following sedges of the damp areas:

Carex panicea, Carnation Sedge

Carex echinata, Star Sedge

Carex demissa,  Common Yellow-sedge

There were eight sedges altogether and other lovely plants like Scutellaria minor, Lesser Skullcap and Achillea ptarmica, Sneezewort. Yes, the site did qualify as a wildlife site and this would include an adjacent dingle which I hope to return to sometime."  

John Martin has also recently recorded an abundance of sedges, from Venus Pool (VP), the Shropshire Ornithological Society reserve.  There he found no less than 13 different sedge species, one of which was Carex pallescens, Pale Sedge, which has a slightly western and upland distribution.  This one was photographed from a meadow on the edge of Long Mynd.  It only grows on an upper slope of the meadow where there is slight seepage of shallow ground water from the Long Myndian shales.  It is certainly pale and note the crinkles at the base of the lowest bract:

Carex pallescens, Pale Sedge

Last week I came across the stately Carex otrubae, False Fox-sedge, in a damp woodland ride.  This year is was particularly abundant and widespread.  The photo does not do justice to this large, striking sedge:

Carex otrubae, False Fox-sedge

Back to the garden, Carex rostrata, Bottle Sedge is doing well in the pond.  The next nearest wild population to me is only a couple of miles away as the crow flies on the Long Mynd, at Wild Moor Pool where it becomes very abundant and is eaten by the ponies which wade into the pool to belly height to reach it:

Carex rostrata, Bottle Sedge

To a sedge with a totally different habit, Carex caryophyllea, Spring Sedge, a small species of short mesotrophic or acidic grassland.   This one was starting to die back already in the drought of a few weeks ago and is next to a rabbit dropping for scale:

Carex caryophyllea, Spring Sedge

Sedges are an interesting group, many being axiophytes - important indicator plants that reveal something about environmental conditions so are worthwhile investing a little time in getting to know.  Some are actually quite distinctive and easy to identify, so don't be put off.  There are resources available including the excellent BSBI Handbook No. 1 Sedges of the British Isles, by Jermy et al.