Tussock Sedges

Photo copyright Lauretta Jones

Blink and you may have missed it, but for a few short days our woods were full of snow. Snow reveals many things that are otherwise hidden, offering hikers fresh experiences along the snowy trails. Animals leave traces of their presence with tracks and depressions in the snow where they bedded down and their dark scat contrasts with the white snow.

Plants also show different patterns in the snow. The Tussock Sedges (Carex stricta) poking through the melting snow in this photograph create a Doctor Seuss-like landscape. Tussock sedge grows two to three feet tall atop hummocky clumps in wet or water-filled soil. Sedges offer an array of services to other species: cover for breeding amphibians and insects, nest and perching sites for birds, seeds to nourish birds and small mammals.

It can be tricky to identify the many sedges that grow in Angle Fly and to distinguish them from the superficially similar grasses or rushes. The first step: make certain you are indeed looking at a sedge. Feel the stem and a leaf between your fingers while remembering the rhyme, “Sedges have edges, and rushes are round; grasses have nodes from their tips to the ground.” Sedge stems feel triangular while those of rushes and grasses are round. Grasses also have little bumps or nodes along the stem where the leaves attach.

Other well-known sedges include the water chestnut that lends crunchiness to Chinese food, and papyrus from which ancient Egyptians made paper. But you won’t find either of those at Angle Fly Preserve.

The Always-Something-to-Learn Department: In my column about moss two weeks ago, I described mushrooms as “…non-green, non-food-producing…” A knowledgeable reader emailed to say that although fungi do not create food by photosynthesis as do chlorophyl-containing plants, in 2007 microscopic fungi were discovered at Chernobyl that were shown to make their own food from radioactivity!

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