How to Grow and Care for Bristle Leaf Sedge (Carex Eburnea)

Delicate grass with brown seed heads.
Carex eburnea is also known as ebony sedge, named for its brownish-black seed heads.

texassugar23 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

In This Article

Carex eburnea is the scientific name for the plant also known as ivory sedge, ebony sedge, and bristleleaf sedge. It is a smaller variety of sedge, growing only as high as a foot tall, and this means it is often used as a ground cover or for smaller rock garden plantings.

It has soft, hair-like blades that grow in a rounded clump as tall as it is wide. In spring, three to five small spikes of greenish-white flowers appear, attracting some early pollinators. These are followed later in the season by small round brownish-black fruits that remain on the plants from May to July, unless eaten by birds or other wildlife. These fruits are the reason the plant is sometimes known as ebony sedge.

Though it's considered an ornamental grass, being a sedge, it's not technically a true grass. It's a useful plant to know about because most sedges need a fair amount of sun to thrive, but bristleleaf sedge grows quite happily in shade.

Though its appearance is somewhat delicate compared to other sedges, this tough and cold hardy plant has naturalized all across the United States. It is native to eastern and central North America, but it can be found in a variety of landscapes from Alaska to New Mexico. You might see bristleleaf sedge growing out of crevices in limestone bluffs in Missouri, and along wooded river bluffs from Mississippi to Minnesota. It favors certain tree species to grow near, in particular deciduous trees and conifers, and is often found growing in or near stands of cedar.

This shade-loving sedge is a good choice for planting in shady areas where grass won't grow and the soil is not terribly fertile. Some gardeners even grow it as an alternative to having a lawn, because it doesn't have to be mowed, yet provides a luxuriant green ground cover that looks much like a classic grass cover.

Scientific Name  Carex eburnea 
Common Name  Bristleleaf sedge, ivory sedge, ebony sedge
Plant Type  Perennial
Mature Size  6 to 12 inches 
Sun Exposure  Partial to full shade 
Soil Type  Medium, well-drained 
Soil pH  Neutral to alkaline
Bloom Time  Spring
Flower Color  Greenish white
Hardiness Zones  USDA 2 to 8 
Native Areas Eastern and central North America 
Clump of delicate green grass
Bristleleaf sedge has a delicate appearance but is a very hardy adaptable plant. carex_grayii / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Bristleleaf Sedge Care

Bristleleaf sedge is available via mail order from many nurseries. It's usually propagated via tissue culture and then grown as a plug in greenhouses for commercial availability.

It should go without saying, it's better to try and obtain this plant commercially than to remove it from its native environment. In fact, bristleleaf sedge is considered endangered in some Northeastern states. Once established in home gardens, it naturalizes well, and is fairly resistant to deer, as most sedges are.

The bristleleaf sedge is a somewhat slow grower, as it spreads via rhizome rather than seed. In optimal conditions, it can grow very large colonies and make an effective and attractive ground cover.

Light

Bristlelead sedge is very heat tolerant, though it still prefers being grown in shady spots.

Soil

This plant is fairly tolerant of different soil types and will grow equally well in sandy or rocky soils.

Adding compost and organic matter such as shredded leaves to the planting area can help make an inviting environment to establish your bristle leaf sedge.

It can even grow in woodland gardens as long as the soil is not too acidic.

Bristleleaf sedge prefers alkaline soil to acid soil, so try to avoid planting it near pine trees, and don't add peat moss or coffee grounds as soil amendments, as these tend to make your soil more acidic.

It has a very high tolerance for calcium in soils, as well as limestone. If you know your soil tends to be acidic, consider adding some lime to it before planting bristleleaf sedge, and mix a bit of lime into the soil around the plants in autumn.

Water

Carex eburnea is a drought-tolerant species and does not require a lot of additional irrigation.

Fertilizer

If the soil is decent, bristleleaf sedge shouldn't need any additional fertilizer once established.

Pruning

You can cut Carex eburnea back to the ground in late autumn or in late winter, to make room for fresh growth in spring.

Propagating Bristlelead Sedge

Carex eburnea can be divided and replanted, and the divisions should have dead or dried growth removed before planting, much as you might clean up and trim a German iris rhizome.