Turns out that Long-Beaked Sedge (Carex sprengelii) has all the qualities I am looking for in a grass-like plant for the shade garden.
Some may ask, how is a sedge different from a grass? The short answer is that sedges are like grasses, but different. A longer answer is that Sedges belong to a different family of plants, the Cyperaceae, as opposed to the grasses who belong to the Graminaceae. Grasses have round, hollow stems (except for the nodes), while Sedges have triangular, solid stems. The thing to remember is that many Sedges can play the role of short or medium-sized grasses in the garden.
So let’s get back to Long-Beaked Sedge, and why I like it so much. As you may have guessed, it prefers full to partial shade and is adaptable in terms of soil moisture. Its habit combines upright stems bearing attractive seed heads along with a waterfall of arching leaves.
At about 2′ tall, this plant is big enough to have substance but not so big as to get awkward in smaller spaces. It can fit right into the front or the middle of the border. Native throughout the Midwest and Great Plains, I think it is a good alternative to Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa).
It’s a tough plant, but not aggressive. It forms clumps but doesn’t run, nor have I experienced any self-sowing. That clump in the first photo was formed by three plugs planted three years ago. As for toughness, in the photo above there’s another clump that’s holding its own at the base of a bird-feeder, often a difficult spot.
In terms of wildlife value, Long-Beaked Sedge is host plant for several moths and one butterfly species (the Appalachian Brown). Seeds are eaten by Eastern Towhees, various Sparrows, and a number of game birds. While this Sedge is deer resistant, anecdotal evidence suggests that it is attractive to Triceratopses. (If you want to know why we have a Triceratops in our garden, read this post.)
Do you have a favorite grass or grass-like plant for the shade garden?