When it rains, it pours…and sometimes it doesn’t stop. If there’s a wetland forming where your garden used to be, consider the palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis). This native sedge hails from marshes and flood plains in the Midwest, but it looks like a miniature from the tropics. Light green, grasslike leaves radiate from the top of 2-foot-tall stems, creating the impression of a tiny palm tree. Its good looks and durability earned it the title of 2011 Grass of the Year (though technically it is not a grass) in the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum’s GreatPlants program. Leaves turn yellow after the first frost.
Common name: Palm sedge, palm branch sedge
Botanical name: Carex muskingumensis
Plant type: Sedge
Zones: 3 to 8
Height: 2 to 3 feet
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Average
• Moisture: Medium to wet
• Mulch: None needed.
• Pruning: Cut back last year’s foliage in late winter.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed or division
Pests and diseases
• Vulnerable to fungal leaf spots and rust.
• Aphids may be a problem.
• Use palm sedge in water gardens, rain gardens, or near ponds. It’s a hardy substitute for papyrus.
• In a rain garden or boggy area, combine palm sedge with other lovers of soggy soil, like blue flag, cardinal flower, ferns, and turtlehead.
• Palm sedge will also thrive in a container, as long as it gets enough water to keep the soil moist.
• Palm sedge spreads slowly by rhizomes and seed, but it’s not considered aggressive. Over time, it can become a beautiful ground cover.
• ‘Little Midge’ is a miniature version, about half the size of the species.
• ‘Oehme’ is variegated. Leaves emerge light green, then develop yellow margins.
All in the family
• Carex is a large genus (about 1,500 species) within a large family. Cyperaceae, the sedge family, contains 4,000 to 5,500 species, which are found from arctic regions to the tropics.
• You can tell a sedge from a grass by its stem. Grass stems are round and sedge stems typically have three sides. Remember: sedges have edges.
Where to buy
• Dove Creek Gardens, Millington, TN, 901-829-2306, www.dovecreekgardens.com
• Joy Creek Nursery, Scappoose, OR, 503-543-7474, www.joycreek.com (‘Oehme’)
• Lazy S’s Farm, Barboursville, VA, www.lazyssfarm.com
• Shooting Star Nursery, Georgetown, KY, 866-405-7979, www.shootingstarnursery.com
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Carex muskingumensis courtesy of Nebraska Statewide Arboretum)