If you take a walk through the woods right now and look close to the ground you’ll see tiny, chaotic puffs of creamy yellow at or near the top of what looks like blades of bunchgrass. But they aren’t bunchgrass – they are sedge plants.
Sedge flowers don’t have showy petals so if you move too fast you’ll miss them. But go slowly and use a magnifying glass or hand lens, and you’ll see that those puffs are made up of stamens coated with yellow pollen (the male part of a flower) and clear white pistils (the female part of a flower). They are the real thing and are all about getting pollinated! The flowering spikes may have both male and female flowers (bisexual) or only one (unisexual).
Sedge (genus Carex) is in the Sedge Family (Cyperaceae). There are 75 different species of sedge in the Rocky Mountains, so figuring out exactly what species you are looking at requires magnification and some patience. Many sedges grow in or near water and are a food source for water birds, but a lot of sedges grow in open meadows and forests at all elevations. The two most common forest species are Ross’s sedge (Carex rosii) and Elk sedge (Carex geyeri). Elk sedge is a very important food source for deer, elk, and bears.
The stems of almost all the sedges are solid and triangular. Their leaves are “v” shaped, thus the phrase you may have heard - “sedges have edges.” Most sedges grow in tight clusters, so once you get tuned into their existence, they are easy to notice. In fact, you’ll see them everywhere. Their clumps are pretty tough too, so when walking, if you have to choose between stepping on blooming flowers or on sedge plants, choose the sedge.