landgirl's picture

Books on sedges

Does anyone know of a good and fairly simple book to help me get to grips with sedges? I've got the BSBI handbook, but it's too hard! I've also been on a course and it all seemed clear at the time, but I really struggle out in the field.



Ambroise's picture

The main problem I

The main problem I encountered with sedges is that I used to collect and identify specimens too early in the season. As a result the key characters are difficult to observe. I'd recommend to stick to a comprehensive and accurate key (Stace's is excellent), use the BSBI book and the internet for pictures and maps... but start with well mature specimens. Also always collect or make a note of the rooting system (tufted, rhyzomatous (spelling?), etc.).

landgirl's picture


I haven't tried Stace for sedges, I'll give it a go.
When you say well mature, do you mean after the stigmas and anthers have dropped off? So you can see the nuts and utricles properly?


Ambroise's picture

I simply mean that is mature

I simply mean that is mature enough. As mentioned below by Alan, you don't always get all the character at the same time, so it is worth looking for variety of development within a population. Good luck!

Rachy Ramone's picture

I'd recommend..

... Colour Identification Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns of the British Isles and north-western Europe (big title) by Francis Rose.

It's a big format book - no good for the field - but has really, really clear illustrations along with very good descriptions.

I also went on a grasses/sedges/rushes course last year, and found it a complete waste of money. However, careful study of this book has given me confidence to ID the "usual suspects" and a resource to go back and check on more unusual ones. If you have already done a course, you will know what to look for, so the (inevitable) jargon in the book will all make sense.

I found it best to use the book at home to make a crib, or "table of differences" for the commonest species, then take just those notes out into the field. Anything that doesn't fit gets taken home (in the form of photos/notes, or occasionally samples, if there are plenty of them growing) for further study.

Hope this helps.

Rachy Ramone

How to take close-ups with cheap phone and hand-lens:
Field Guides for Budding Botanists:

landgirl's picture

Good idea...

Thanks Rachy, making a table would suit my way of learning and make me study the differences. Perhaps if I just concentrate on the local species to start with, I won't get so discouraged!
I have looked at Rose, but it's so expensive, and I don't get on well with his Wild Flower Key so have hesitated to splash out.
I will persevere!

Rachy Ramone's picture

You're welcome...

...I'm a big fab of cribs, or Table of Differences, see this:

for details on how to start, if you don't already know: it's a really simple example, but the same principles apply to sedges etc.

And no, sorry, I haven't compiled my Sedges one yet! I started it last year, but lost interest, otherwise I'd make it available.

I have to say that I also find Rose's keys hard to work with: Poland (vegetative keys) is much better. But of course, once you get a basic familiarity, you don't need keys. I keep having to explain to my Botany Crew the difference between Identification - unknown plant, where you use keys - and Recognition, where you know "it's a speedwell!" but not which one: and that's where the cribs come in handy.

Good luck with it - and once you're an expert, you can come and teach me!

Rachy Ramone

How to take close-ups with cheap phone and hand-lens:
Field Guides for Budding Botanists:

AlanS's picture

Work at it

Hi Landgirl,

At the risk of sounding patronising, you seem to me to have a good, clear, critical mind when you give IDs, and I think the BSBI handbook is right for you. This doesn't mean that sedges will suddenly become easy - nothing is going to do that until we have portable DNA 'barcode' readers - but the clear analytical drawings in the handbook are really what you need.

Obviously be sensible about collecting, but do not be afraid to collect. Most sedges have evolved to withstand grazing and can loose shoots down to the basal sheaths. Then, specimen in hand, look at key features under a dissecting microscope and compare them with the illustrations.

Not all features are visible at the same time. When you have ripe fruits, you have lost the stigmas, and when you still have stigmas you still have to be careful to check that some have not broken away (giving apparently 2 instead of 3). Close examination of leaf-sheaths and leaf-tips is also necessary with a dissecting microscope to really be sure. Most photographs are pretty useless for critical work.

So it is not instant, but build your experience by looking critically at material, and suddenly you are going to be a lot better at sedges than most people are!


landgirl's picture


Thanks Alan, I sometimes wonder if I have enough of my life left to build up the right experience - should have started years ago!
I will keep trying, I seem to have got my "eye" in for spotting sedges at the moment so no shortage of material to play with.
In your opinion, is it worth posting sedges here on iSpot? I notice they often don't get much response.


miked's picture

It is possible to post sedges

It is possible to post sedges on ispot but if possible take close-up photos of all the key parts and give good descriptions of habitat etc. We have a phd student working on two similar species of sedge and even after 3 years of study she still sometimes finds it difficult to tell them apart, and of course there are also hybrids just to make things more interesting.

Plymouth Phil's picture

Sedges books

Hi Alyson,

I also find the latest BSBI Handbook difficult to use. All the hybrids that get mentioned just confuse the issue, although no doubt the sedge specialist needs to know about them.

Stace is the best in my opinion. Stick with it and gradually things drop into place and begin to make sense. I identify my local sedges without undue difficulty using a x20 hand lens. I would disagree that a microscope is necessary.

I read somewhere that to be sure of your id, you must look at mature utricles but in practice I would suggest that this is not strictly necessary and "semi-mature" utricles are good enough.

I will try and take some photos of more sedges and perhaps these and people's comments will help. Sedges are really interesting and I am sure you will come to terms with them in time.

Good luck and keep looking,


landgirl's picture


Thanks to everyone for encouraging me to keep trying with sedges. I'm up to about six or seven that I can confidently identify, still struggling with others but I'm getting the hang of it a bit better now. I do find the key in Stace easier to use. My house is getting full of jam jars with sedge specimens in them!