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Plant Profile

Golden Sedge (Carex lutea)

Photo Credit: Mike Kunz
  • Global Rank: G2 - Imperiled
  • Legal Status: Federally Endangered
  • Family: Cyperaceae
  • State: FL, NC
  • Nature Serve ID: 147501
  • Lifeform: Graminoid
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 10/06/2004

Carex lutea is a rhizomatous, perennial sedge that grows in clumps with mostly basal leaves. It is distinguished from other Carex species by the bright golden yellow color of female spikes when the fruits mature, by how tall (up to one meter) and slender it is, and by its out-curved perigynia beaks. It was discovered in 1991 and was officially described in 1994. The Golden Sedge is endemic to just two North Carolina coastal plain counties, where it resides on particularly rare habitat. This sedge is found along the ecotone between longleaf pine savannas and hardwood/conifer swamps where historically fires occurred every three to five years, suppressing the shrub layer. The remaining eight known populations of the sedge occur in areas that have been burned, mown, and/or are wet enough to prevent the establishment of a shrub understory. All eight populations occur within a four-mile-wide area. Between 1992 and 1996, three of the sites lost over 83% of their individuals for unknown reasons. Very specific habitat requirements, combined with fire suppression, herbicide use, and habitat loss due to development pressures and site drainage, are the primary reasons for low population size and overall decline of this species (Leblond 1994; Ratzlaff 2002).

Where is Golden Sedge (Carex lutea) located in the wild?


The habitat of the Golden Sedge is extremely rare, and has been classified as Pine Savanna Very Wet Clay Variant, (LeBlond 2000). This sedge is endemic to the coastal plain of North Carolina, within the Northeast Cape Fear River watershed, in wet savannas that grow over coquina limestone. These areas tend to be unusually acidic compared to nearby areas, and the soils tend to be sandy and wet, even shallowly inundated; the golden sedge thus requires a high water table. The Golden Sedge tends to occur along the ecotone between longleaf pine savannas and hardwood/conifer swamps. Historically, fires occurred every three to five years, suppressing the shrub layer. The Golden Sedge is associated with several species, including Liriodendron tulipifera, Taxodium ascendens, Pinus palustris, the endangered Thalictrum cooleyi, and rare species such as Plantago sparsiflora, Parnassia caroliniana, and Rhynchospora thornei, among others, which form an open canopy, (Weakley 2002; Ratzlaff 2002; Leblond 1994; Amoroso et al. 2005).


Found only at five sites within Pender and Onslow counties of North Carolina, all of which occur within a four-mile-wide area (LeBlond 1994).

States & Provinces:

Golden Sedge can be found in Florida, North Carolina

Which CPC Partners conserve Golden Sedge (Carex lutea)?

CPC's Plant Sponsorship Program provides long term stewardship of rare plants in our National Collection. We are so grateful for all our donors who have made the Plant Sponsorship Program so successful. We are in the process of acknowledging all our wonderful plant sponsorship donors on our website. This is a work in progress and will be updated regularly.

Conservation Actions

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Carex lutea was described in 1994 from a small area in southeastern North Carolina. It occurs on lime-rich soils in the ecotone between longleaf pine savannas and non-riverine swamp forests, where fire has suppressed shrub dominance (FNA 2002). The species' habitat is highly localized and rare (USFWS 2002).

  • 01/01/2010

Shrub succession; Drainage of the high water table, because of silviculture or agriculture; Habitat loss due to road and powerline maintenance, development (residential, commericial, or industrial), clay mining, highway expansion, and other projects;

  • 01/01/2010

There are eight populations (one of which contains two subpopulations), with less than 800 individuals total (Ratzlaff 2002; LeBlond 1994).

  • 01/01/2010

Sanguamphai et al. (2005) tested genetic diversity from five of the remaining eight populations and found that, compared to other clumped Carex species, the Golden Sedge had a moderate level of genetic diversity, even higher than two related species, Carex cyptolepis and Carex flava, whose North American populations have been similarly tested

  • 01/01/2010

Seven out of the eight populations occur on private lands, making them susceptible to development. Two of these are protected by voluntary agreements between the landowners and the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program; however, these are only partial protections because of their voluntary nature. The eighth population is located on land owned by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which is studying this site for future restoration of the natural communities and management for rare species (Ratzlaff 2002). Part of one population occurs on land now owned by The Nature Conservancy, but it may be threatened by potential changes in hydrology due to nearby quarry activities (Ratzlaff 2002). It should be noted that the remaining populations occur on areas of savannah that have either been burned in order to maintain the community as part of active management of the site, or are areas that have been mown and/or may be wet enough to prevent the establishment of a shrub understory (Amoroso et al. 2005).

  • 01/01/2010

Amoroso et al. (2005) recommend prescribed fire or mowing in order to suppress a shrub understory, that the hydrology of the sites be maintained, and that drainage ditching and herbicide use be prohibited.

  • 01/01/2010

Initial seed collection and viability analyses are needed, as this is a 2005 addition to the National Collection.


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Taxon Carex lutea
Authority LeBlond
Family Cyperaceae
CPC Number 44451
ITIS 507766
Duration Perennial
Common Names Golden sedge | Sulfur Sedge
Associated Scientific Names Carex lutea
Distribution Found only at five sites within Pender and Onslow counties of North Carolina, all of which occur within a four-mile-wide area (LeBlond 1994).
State Rank
State State Rank
North Carolina S2
Florida S2
Ecological Relationships


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