Carex lurida – a ‘Must-include’ Raingarden Plant

Carex lurida
Carex lurida in a drainage swale on a neighboring property.

I have been involved in some aspect of the landscape industry my entire adult life. Along the way, I have encountered an endless world of plant species to discover and learn about. At this point in my career I have probably forgotten more than I have learned, yet I still have only forgotten a fraction of what there is yet to know. One of my latest discoveries, by happy accident, is Carex lurida.

The common name for Carex lurida is Sallow Sedge, or, maybe it’s Shallow Sedge. I suspect one of these is a misspelling but haven’t been able to determine which. The MD Biodiversity Project, MOBOT and the U.S. FWS Native Plant Guide refer to it as ‘Sallow Sedge’. The USDA, North Creek and Pinelands Nurseries refer to it as ‘Shallow Sedge’. The LBJ Wildflower Center references both names and others only refer to it as ‘Lurid Sedge’. As it turns out, ‘Sallow’ is actually a word – not a typo, meaning “of a sickly, yellowish or lightish brown color”. Lurid also turns out to be an actual word, meaning “sallow, ghostly”. The sedge does have a yellow-green color, but I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as “sickly”. Nor, I suppose, would I describe my vocabulary as extensive, after this latest humbling excursion into the dictionary.

Carex lurida
Carex lurida

Carex lurida is listed as a wetland obligate in the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain region. It is found in swales, seeps, wet meadows and fields, and on the margins of marshes and can tolerate periodic inundation. The foliage, as previously mentioned, is a yellow-green, which does not necessarily distinguish it from other wet sedges. It is clump forming, growing 18 to 30 inches. The most distinguishing feature are the seed heads, appearing in May-June, which are approximately 1-1/2 inches long and have a bristly feel and appearance.

I noticed this sedge at the rear of a neighboring property when I was doing reconnaissance for a stormwater project. I took a piece home and identified it as the native Carex lurida and decided that it would work well in my project. I subsequently ran into the owner of the property, who was renovating the house as a flip, and asked if I could grab a few clumps to transplant into my project. He was more than happy to oblige, as the sedge was starting to break through the rear fence and bully the lawn turf.

Carex lurida ducks
Mallard approved: Carex lurida
transplants this spring.

What impressed me most was the resilience of this plant. The house was listed for sale last July, just at the start of an unseasonably dry summer. Rather than take the chance that the future owners may feel differently about sharing plants, I quickly leapt into action and transplanted two dozen clumps into my recently completed drainage project. After a brief shock, the plants recovered remarkably well and established themselves quickly, even during the drought. Carex lurida is comparable in height and habitat to Juncus effusus and appears to be more robust and drought tolerant. I would consider this a ‘must-include’ for any raingarden or bioretention project.