Carex stipata - Sawbeak Sedge; prickly sedge; swamp grass

Wetland Indictor Status: OBL

General species Description

Sawbeak sedge is an awl-fruited, native, perinneal that forms densly clufted clumps from nonrhizomatous rootlocks. The name ' saw beak sedge ' refers to the awl-like shape (narrow throughout, but broader at the base and tapered to a sharp tip) of both the female flower bracts and the perigynia. Sawbeak sedge is a bright green, erect plant that has a pyramidial flower cluster. Its stems are stout, broadly triangular, 25-100 cm tall, and spongy inside. The inflourescence of the sawbeak sedge is a loosly packed head of many short spikes. The numerous, small, few-flowered spikes are attached directly to the stem and densly aggregated into a single, long, golden head, 3-10 cm long and 1-3 cm thick. Sawbeak sedge has leaf sheaths that are flattened and noticeably wrinkled and puckered where the leaves attach to the stem. This species is found in moist and wet areas.


The leaves of sawbeak sedge are yellowish-green, tough, flat, and 5-11 mm wide. The flattened face of the leaf sheaths are thin, obviously wrinkled, and tears easily. The lower leaves are short and reduced to sheaths around the base. Involucrial bracts are sheathless and only the lowest is evident. .


Sawbeak sedge resembles a beak toothed flower, extending past the scale and giving it a prickly appearance. The individual flowers are generally reduced and inconspicuous, borne in spikes or spikelets and substended by small, brownish scales. Its inflorescence contains several to many spikes. It is stalkless in dense, thickly oblong clusters 3-10 cm long; male flowers are at the top, female flowers below. Blooms late May through August.


The perigynia is narrowly lanced to egg-shape, with an inflated base and a long tapering body, 4-6 mm, greenish to straw-brown, widely spreading with obvious veins. The achenes are lance shaped, 4-5 mm long at maturity; two stigmas.


The sedges are most common in moist and wet places, but some species occur in moderately dry to semi-arid sites. Sawbeak sedge is commonly found is disturbed wet meadows and ditches and in lowland to midmontane elevations. Othe sedges associated with sawbeak sedge include: Carex diandra, Cusick's sedge (Carex Cusickii), Hood's sedge (Carex hoodi), Fox sedge (Carex vulpinoida), and Dense sedge (Carex Densa).


Sawbeak sedge can be found in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and most counties of Northwestern Washington..

Similar Species

Sawbeak sedge is variable in form, therefore can be mistaken for another plant. Cusick's sedge can be distinguished by a coppery tinge toward the mouth, and the lack of puckering along the stem. Carex diandra, a lesser pannicled sedge can be distinguished by its red-dotted top, unlike the copper-tinged top of the sawbeak sedge. Hood's sedge can be distinguished by its 4-8 spikes, and its tight egg-shaped head. Other similiar species include: Fox sedge, that only grows East of the Cascades, and Carex densa, which can be distinguished by its lesser triangular stem and narrower leaves (3-7 mm wide).

Ecological Value

This species produces a large crop of water-dispersed fruits. These fruits are eaten by a variety of animals, such as insects, waterbuds, finches, and some mammals. The leaves are often used as nesting material, and some mat forming species provide shelter and nesting sites..

Human Value

Sedges were a staple in Indian technology. The leaves were used as thread and sewn into hide garments as decoration. The Nootka, Makah, and Hesquirat people used it as basket material. The Squamish, Sechelt, Hawda, and other Coastel groups also used Carex for weaving. The Okanogan used Carex for laying over and under food in steaming pits, for lining moccasins, and for covering and lining berry baskets. Leaves were tied onto a stick to make a beater for soapberries. Presently, the leaves and stems are still used for basketry. It also serves as a popular decorative, paper and food source. .


Altonen B.L., 1993. Ethnopharmacology. Portland Oregon

Cooke, S. S., ed. 1997. A Field Guide to the Common Wetland Plants of Western Washington & Northwest Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society and Washington Native Plant Society. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle WA.

Pojar, J. and A. MacKinnon. 1994. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Lone Star Publishing, Richmond WA. Turner, N.J. 1979. Plants in British Columbia Indian Technology. Handbook #38. British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria, British Columbia.

Turner, N.J., R. Bouchard, D Kennedy. 1980. Ethnobotany of the Okanagan-Colville Indians of British Columbia and Washington. British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria, British Columbia.

This page was created by: Kirsten Johnson, August 2000

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