You could say I'm a bit of a sedgeaholic. I've seen a lot of sedges in my time. I've gone out of my way to see certain sedges on more than one occasion, in fact. I've even pushed the limits of Lindsay's patience by staying out too late looking at sedges. It's a disease, I tell you... a downward spiral.
There is an amazing amount of morphological diversity in this graminoid family (Cyperaceae), and particularly in the multi-sectioned genus Carex, which has been divided into approximately 2000 species worldwide and almost 500 species in North America. Until this summer, Waterfall's Sedge (Carex latebracteata), a Ouachita endemic with inflated bracts that conceal the spikes, was my hands-down favorite. Others high on my list include: Golden Sedge (Carex aurea), a crowd-pleaser with tiny, orange, pumpkin-like perigynia; Ravenfoot Sedge (Carex crus-corvi), a spiky-inflorescenced gem with long-beaked perigynia that look like little golf tees; Northern Long Sedge (Carex folliculata), a charmer with inflated, gradually tapering perigynia in unique-looking spikelets; False Hop Sedge (Carex lupuliformis), an elusive yet distinct character with diamond-shaped achenes that have quite knobby angles; Painted Sedge (Carex picta), a gorgeous dioecious species with showy scales that make it a strong candidate for native landscaping; and Little Green Sedge (Carex viridula), one of the only sedges with a common name nearly as adorable as the inflorescence itself.
However, upon seeing the graceful beaut pictured above and below in Douglas County, Wisconsin this August, I could only fall to my knees and gaze appreciatively at the long awned chocolate-brown scales that much exceed the suborbicular perigynia, assembled into a pistillate spikelet somewhat reminiscent of a rattlesnake rattle. This is Boreal Bog Sedge (Carex magellanica ssp. irrigua, formerly known as Carex paupercula).
Boreal Bog Sedge, a member of Carex section Limosae, is often found with Sphagnum moss in bogs, fens, and marshes of Greenland, Canada, New England, the northern tier of Great Lakes States, a few western states, and Eurasia. The specific epithet magellanica is a reference to the Strait of Magellan, a narrow strip of water near the southern tip of South America. So how did this northern species come to be named for a southern hemisphere passageway? Carex magellanica is a bipolar disjunct species, meaning that it is found at both extremes of the globe - the northern polar regions and the southern polar regions - but not in between. Plants in the cool temperate areas of South America are known as Carex magellanica ssp. magellanica. This unique global distribution, in combination with the elegance of its inflorescence, clearly makes Carex magellanica the coolest sedge in the world.