Cherokee Sedge: a fantastic native grass to plant in Chattanooga

April 1st, 2020

Carex cherokeensis

Cherokee sedge is a perennial member of the grass group of plants. It is a native plant to the southeastern and southcentral portion of North America. 

Both its common name and its species epithet are an honor to the Native American tribe, the Cherokees.

Photo courtesy iNaturalist user (c) Mike Farley, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC). 

Physical description

This species grows to a height of 12” to 18” tall and 12” to 18” wide. While this is a flowering plant, its reproductive structure is rather inconspicuous. The portion of the plant holding the seeds is a dull, light brown color and the seeds themselves are brown, yellow or green. The plant has an evergreen appearance and 16” drooping, narrow, grass-like leaves. The plant has a spreading form and will colonize adjacent areas but it is not considered aggressive. It is a rather slow-growing and low maintenance, well-behaved plant.

Habitat

The Cherokee sedge prefers moist, loamy soils that have a rather high calcium content such as bottomland forests, mesic forests, and wet meadows. These plants are a wonderful ground cover and, as such, can be used to hide all sorts of yard problem areas as well as accenting showy sites.

This sedge forms attractive, slowly-spreading clumps (6-12” tall) of fine-textured, narrow, grass-like, deep green leaves. It is grown in the landscape for its foliage effect. Greenish-white flowers in spring are inconspicuous. Wheat-like seed spikes mature in autumn.

PHotos

All photos above courtesy iNaturalist users. Top left is photo 2179471, (c) Matthew Herron, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC). Bottom left is photo 6741183, (c) Alysa Joaquin, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC), right is photo (c) Hubert Matthews, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC)

Uses

The primary use for this type of grass is as a ground cover. Therefore, it is often found as a stop for erosion in sloping terrain, so common here in the Chattanooga area.

Cherokee sedge is also used in more formal gardens as an inflection point when the eye proceeds from one textural area to another.

Protection Status

This species is not considered protected by any federal or international agency.

Interesting information

Some gardeners have indicated that the Cherokee sedge is a perfect plant for the backyard because it requires such low maintenance. Additionally, heaping on fertilizer and soil amendments tends to reduce the growth of this grass. After any minor maintenance in the early spring – light clipping of the leaves to maintain shape and a weak organic fertilizer – it's best to just leave this plant to itself.

This species is heat and draught resistant as well as deer resistant. It prefers medium moisture but can continue with lots of water or very little water for short periods. It does best in medium sunshine but will grow well in shade or full sun for short periods. 

The US Army has designated this plant as a facultative wetland species, meaning that it prefers a wetland habitat but will grow well in non-wetland areas.

About professor Charlie Belin

Charlie is a retired professor and Biological Oceanographer. He taught five courses in the University of Georgia System for many years from his home base in Savannah, Georgia.  

Charlie loves hiking at Reflection Riding, teaching children about the ecology of the area, and interacting with the Reflection Riding staff. They are GREAT!

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Posted by Charlie Belin  | Category: native plants
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