What is caricology?

Sometimes a plant is so familiar that its’ true value as an ornamental can be overlooked. For me, one such plant is the sedge (Seisg in Gaelic for us Scots). From a bit of background reading I discovered it has its’ own “ology”; caricology is the study of sedges.

Estimates vary between 1500 -2000 species worldwide, (not including cultivars) mainly found in the northern temperate hemisphere. They commonly grow in damp or boggy habitats of forest woodlands, stream banks and mountain meadows but many species can tolerate dry shade.


Carex testacea ‘Prairie Fire‛ has lovely orange tipped foliage that glows at dusk.

Although I have not identified the scientific evidence, I have learnt that they pre-date the evolution of true grasses with which they are often grouped, together with rushes.  The stem of all three is known as the “culm” and in sedges it is solid and normally V shaped in cross section, whereas grasses are hollow and round. There is a wee rhyme to help remember;

Sedges have edges

Rushes are round

Grasses are hollow and spread “round”

Great stuff a rhyme and an “ology”.  In one of my, very handy books titled Scottish Plants for Scottish Gardens   by Jill, Duchess of Hamilton and Dr Franklyn Perring there are about sixty species of carex native to Scotland listed. Of these I have found commercially available only four species; Carex panicea,  C. sylvatica, C. riparia, and C. pendula.


C.elata ‘Aurea’ ,‘ Bowles’ golden sedge ( not be confused with Millium effusum ‘Aureum’ Bowles’ Golden wood Millet grass) are best not used in too much shade so they do not lose their colouring.


Millium effusum ‘Aureum’, Bowles’ Golden wood Millet grass. Similar but different;remember the rhyme whilst enjoying the wonderful contrats. Ignore the weed.

World-wide, carex species are used to feed livestock, as hay and erosion control. Ornamentally they are useful as evergreen low growing (around 30cm-40cm) ground-cover or slope stabilisation plants working as a perfect foil for other plant shapes, foliage textures and flower colours. Some species can grow taller (as C. muskingumensis, 90cm) and some of the clumps can become quite wide making them  useful  accent or feature plants.


Carex oshimensis ’ Evergold’ (pale yellow centre margin) and C.oshimensis ‘ Variegata’, ( white edged) are Japanese natives, commonly sold in garden centres and can reach 1m across.

Some with brown or bronzy foliage can look dead but are prized for colour  contrast of companion plants such as epimediums, bergenias and rodgersias.  Bronze shaded varieties include the long fine leaved C. connans ‘Frosted Curls‛  or C.c. ‘Bronze Form’.


Carex oshimensis ’ Evergold’ and C.oshimensis ‘ Variegata’ on either side of  a green C.connans in my tranquil garden.

Carex are relatively trouble free and easy to look after needing little attention except for a recommended combing out of dead leaves as opposed to cutting down in the spring as with true grasses.  Although I have never cut them to ground level, I know some rabbits that have and they have found the sedges to regrow adequately.


C.c ‘Bronze Form’, not dead, very much alive but in need of contrasting colour and foliage to be better appreciated.



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