Submitted by Natural Resources Commissioner Lee Haggas
The typical suburban homeowner lives in thrall to his or her lawn. The mowing, the fertilizing, the aerating, the maintenance – it can all add up to hours and dollars that could be better spent elsewhere. For those ready to chuck the mower and ditch the seeder, there is a species of native plant that could be the time- and environment-saving solution to those grassy woes.
Sedges are members of the Carex family, a grass-like group of plants that are hardy, native alternatives to typical suburban lawns, especially in those areas where cultivated grasses do poorly. And unlike their boring, one-look-fits-all counterparts, sedges come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from arching and spiky to mounded and compact to airy and open. They can grow as tall as 2 feet or stay close to the ground at 1 to 2 inches, and with dozens of native Carex species, there will undoubtedly be a specific variety of sedge suitable for any suburban microclimate, from dry and sunny to moist and shady.
Best yet, sedges inhibit weed growth, produce seeds preferred by many bird species, and provide food, shelter and habitat for native insects such as beneficial moths and butterflies. And sedges are a plant for all seasons, sending up insignificant flowers in the spring, fruits in the summer, fabulous colors in the fall, and striking stalks and seed heads that provide interest through the winter. Some popular sedge varieties are Oak Sedge, Tussock Sedge, White-tinge Sedge, Gray’s Sedge, Wood Sedge, Sprengel’s Sedge and Star Sedge. Many varieties of sedges can be viewed at the Native Plant Demonstration Garden behind the St. Charles Park District Community Center at Pottawatomie Park and at Hickory Knolls Discovery Center.