The catalog read, “Carex morrowii ‘Aurea-variegata’ (Japanese sedge). Graceful swirls of handsomely variegated leaves, green with a central yellow stripe, form neat, rounded clumps and are fully evergreen in the South and partially so in more northerly areas. 10 to 12 inches tall and easily grown. Zones 5 to 9. One-quart container. Each $12.95.”
Of course, I had to have it! I ordered a single specimen because one never knows if an unfamiliar plant will meet expectations. How many of us have placed an order for a plant we just had to have only to find that it did not flourish in our gardens? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I always say. Anyway, I reason to myself that if a new plant does well, it will spread and I can divide it. If I lose it, I won’t worry because not too much money was invested.
The venture with the Japanese sedge was successful. It flourished in the partly shady place I chose for it in the backyard. Planted in enriched soil and watered regularly, it slowly grew into a clump big enough to dig and divide into three plants. Since then, it has been divided again, so I now have an area large enough to make an impact in the backyard landscape and to perform the way I envisioned.
I have noticed in the last couple of years that some of the plants are reverting to their solid green form. I suspect that, as with other species, the solid green form is more vigorous than the variegated form of the plant. It is time to dig and divide again. This time all the dark green plants that have emerged will be removed and only the desirable variegated ones replanted. Afterwards, the bed should be good to go for several years.
Most people who see the Japanese sedge in my garden believe it is a small ornamental grass, but it is distinctively different from grasses. Sedges are grasslike plants with triangular stems belonging to the Cyperaceae family that encompasses somewhere around 100 genera with up to 5,000 species, depending on the taxonomist consulted. Cultivars of many of the species increase the number of selections exponentially. While some genera are desirable landscape plants, others are pernicious weeds.
Brownish insignificant flowers emerge from my Japanese sedge in late winter. During the winter the plants may look a bit tattered, but if trimmed in early spring, new foliage emerges and renews the planting. Even if the plants are not trimmed, they seem to look great by the time the new leaves emerge. The old ones seem to die down, or perhaps the newly emerging blades hide the dead and dying ones. At any rate, I have not always trimmed the sedge back and I have enjoyed it in the landscape nonetheless.
This sedge works well at the foreground of my shady backyard bed. Behind it are various ferns and shade-loving perennials. Never jarring or obtrusive in the landscape, the sedge is a foil for the brightly colored caladiums that join the grouping in summer and an interesting contrast in color and texture with the ferns and other perennials. Because of its short statue, it is ideal for the foreground of the bed.
Carex morrowii is native to woodlands in the low mountains of Japan. It is adaptable to a wide range of soils and has been pest free in my garden. Several cultivars are in the trade, including: ‘Gold Band’ or ‘Goldband’ (Zones 5–9), sporting pale yellow leaf margins and growing 9 to 12 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide; ‘Silver Sceptre’ (Zones 5-9), an arching clump with narrow, white-edged leaves growing about 12 inches tall and 15 inches wide; ‘Ice Dance’ (Zones 5–9), with white edges growing to 15 inches tall and 18 inches wide; and C. morrowii var. temnolepis ‘Silk Tassel’ (Zones 6–9), the finest textured of the selections with 24-inch tall white-edged, gracefully arching leaves.
Many other species of Carex are garden worthy. See Paul Cappiello's article in the May/June 2009 issue of The American Gardener. Pictures of several species can be found on the Plant Delights Nursery, Inc. website. An internet search will reveal much more information about this interesting group of plants. They beckon to me from glossy catalog pages and tantalizing websites. It is just possible that one of these adaptable plants will be just the ticket to add a bit of sparkle to your landscape.
Thanks to Sueroderus for the thumbnail showing Carex morrowii in a grouping with other shade-loving perennials. The author is also grateful to Jamie68 for her photograph showing the plant growing in a container along with other container-grown plants.
About Marie Harrison
Serving as a board member for Valparaiso Garden Club, the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs and the Deep South Region, and National Garden Clubs takes a chunk of my time and attention. Being a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener crowds a bit more into my busy days. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at www.mariesgardenanddesign.com.