This perennial sedge is 1½-3¼' tall, forming a loose tuft of flowering culms and leaves. The culms are light green, glabrous, and 3-angled; there are several alternate leaves along the length of each culm underneath the inflorescence. The leaf blades are up to 2' (60 cm.) long and 5-11 mm. across; they are ascending to widely spreading, recurved, and rather floppy. The leaf blade surface is light to medium green, glabrous, and often furrowed. Leaf sheaths are white-membranous along their inner (ventral) sides, while their outer (dorsal) sides are light to medium green, veined, and glabrous. The ligules are longer than they are across and short-membranous. Each culm terminates in an inflorescence about 3-12" (10-30 cm.) long that consists of 2-5 pistillate spikelets, a single staminate spikelet (rarely there are 2-3 staminate spikelets), and their leafy bracts. The large pistillate spikelets are 1-2.5" (2.5-6.5 cm.) long and ¾-1" (2-2.5 cm.) across, consisting of densely packed perigynia and their scales that are ascending and facing all directions. The long beaks of these perigynia provide the pistillate spikelets with a spiky appearance. The perigynia are 10-17 mm. long and 3-4.5 mm. across; they are lanceoloid to ovoid, light green to brownish yellow, glabrous, and inflated; along their sides are numerous longitudinal veins (typically 18-22). The perigynia have rounded bases and long slender beaks that terminate in a pair of short teeth (up to 2 mm. in length). The pistillate scales are shorter than the perigynia and lanceolate in shape; they have central green veins and broad membranous margins. The floret of each perigynia has a single long style that is curled or curved, and there are 3 stigmata. The pistillate spikelets are erect to ascending; they have peduncles that can vary in length from 1/8" (3 mm.) to 6" (15 cm.), although they are usually less than 2" (5 cm.) in length. The terminal staminate spikelet is ¾-3½" (2-9 cm.) long and 2-4 mm. across; this slender spikelet is held erect on a peduncle that is variable in length and it soon turns brown after the blooming period. The leafy bracts of the spikelets are up to 12" (30 cm.) long and 9 mm. across; they are similar to the leaf blades and usually overtop the inflorescence. The blooming period occurs from late spring to mid-summer, lasting about 1-2 weeks. The florets are cross-pollinated by the wind. Afterwards, the achene-bearing perigynia become brownish yellow and disarticulate from their spikelets. They are distributed in part by wind or water. Individual achenes are 3-4 mm. long and 1.5-2.5 mm. across; they are hexaploid-rhomboid in shape (like a 6-sided polygon that is diamond-shaped), but noticeably flattened along one axis, and glabrous. The root system is fibrous and rhizomatous.
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