Prepare yourself to enter the wonderful world of sedges, reader, a land shunned even by many a botanist. I know that the avid sedgaholics who follow this blog - both of them - eagerly await the following, though.
Sedges get an undeserved bad rap. Part of this stems from their sheer numbers: there are over 160 species in the genus Carex alone recorded from Ohio. Factor in Eleocharis, Schoenoplectus, Scirpus, Cyperus and the various other sedge genera and that's a lot of stuff to learn. But in my view, if one really wants to understand ecosystems to the fullest extent possible, a good knowledge of the flora is essential. The plants are driving most of the other, animal life forms found in any locale.
And sedges are VERY good barometers of habitat. Many species are quite specific to certain environmental niches, and can reveal much about the quality of the habitat that one is assessing. Plus, many of these sedges are just beautiful, and well worth more than a passing glance.
This one may not look like much, but it is one of the best plant finds in Ohio in many a year. Hats off to Rick Gardner for this coup. It is the Giant Sedge, Carex gigantea, which is new to the state. Not only that, but one will have to cover a lot of ground to reach the closest populations. This site is not far from West Virginia, but the sedge as yet remains unknown there. Kentucky has a few sites in four of its southernmost counties, and Indiana has a few populations in three southern counties. This Ohio site, in Gallia County, is at least a hundred miles away from any other stands of Giant Sedge.
That big grasslike tuft at the base of the sapling is the sedge - click the photo to enlarge - and the whitish-green spheres are the fruit. This is classic hybrid vigor - the cross outsizes either parent.
I've dissected a spikelet for your viewing pleasure, and we can clearly see the individual perigynia. Normal sedges have the perigynia filled plumply with hard bony seeds. Not this hybrid. There wasn't a seed to be found. So how will it reproduce? It won't, at least this one. It's parent species are long-lived perennials and this luxuriant hybrid will remain as a clone, growing from rootstock. But it might live for decades, who knows?
The above photo also shows something typical of hybrid plants. The hybrid is growing just in front of that big tree by the sapling, just in front and to Ray Showman's left. The bare area in back is much wetter and has standing water for lengthy periods, and that's where the Louisiana Sedge is growing. And we found plenty of Gray's Sedge a bit higher and drier on more elevated portions of the floodplain. The hybrid splits the difference in regards to habitat.
We'll look into this in more detail, and should be able to prove the hybrid's parentage. If it is what we think, such a hybrid has apparently never been documented so Rick and I may end up formally describing it.