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Native Plant of the Month: Santa Barbara Sedge

Ever heard this bit of poetry?
 
Sedges have edges
Rushes are round
Grasses are hollow
Right up from the ground

Abundant along the floodplain of Putah Creek, sedges, rushes, and grasses are notoriously difficult to distinguish from each other. The triangular stem found on most sedges, however, gives the observer a real “edge” in telling them apart, as the above poem illustrates.

Santa Barbara sedge (Carex barbarae) is low-growing and thrives in the flood-prone and shady understory of the forests along rivers and streams. The ecosystem services it provides are numerous. Its seeds provide nourishing forage for waterfowl, song birds, and mammals of all sizes. The plant itself serves as nesting habitat for some songbirds and protective cover for reptiles, small mammals, and fish.

One of its common names, “white root sedge,” refers to this plant’s long white rhizomes (horizontal, underground stems). The rhizomes are of great importance as a basketry material to many indigenous tribes, who historically tended the plants by burning in the dormant season, and sustainably harvesting them to yield long, four to six foot rhizomes used to weave baskets. Its rhizomes are not only culturally significant; they help with streambank stabilization and erosion control, making this sedge a favorite plant for ecological restoration.

Next time you visit Putah Creek, take a closer look at the “grasses” underfoot along the floodplain. If the leaves meet in a triad along the stem, you just may find yourself breaking into verse!

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