Carex ericetorum

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaCyperaceaeCarexCarex ericetorum


A perennial herb restricted to dry, grazed grasslands; it occurs on infertile calcareous soils overlying limestone, chalk or chalky boulder-clay. It is a poor competitor and soon disappears if under-grazing allows the sward to become too rank. It reproduces vegetatively and by seed, albeit sparingly. Lowland, reaching 400 m near Shap (Westmorland).



World Distribution

Eurosiberian Boreal-montane element, with a continental distribution in W. Europe.

© K.J. Walker, BSBI

Broad Habitats

Calcareous grassland (includes lowland and montane types)

Light (Ellenberg): 8

Moisture (Ellenberg): 4

Reaction (Ellenberg): 7

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 1


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 2.9

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 15.3

Annual Precipitation (mm): 801

Life form information

Height (cm): 17

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary




Clonality - primary

Rhizome shortly creeping

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 33

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: -0.46

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Carex ericetorum Pollich

Rare Spring-sedge

Status: scarce


This is a plant of short grassland, on chalk and limestone. Unlike C. caryophyllea, which often grows with it, it is confined to highly calcareous soils. In Breckland the most frequent associates in the short, closed, rabbit-grazed swards in which it grows are Astragalus danicus, Festuca ovina, Galium verum, Linum catharticum, Lotus corniculatus, Pilosella officinarum and Thymus pulegioides. It is a lowland plant in East Anglia, but ascends to 400 metres at Long Scar Pike and at Crosby Ravensworth Fell.

C. ericetorum is a mat-forming perennial. The individual tufts extend slowly by means of pioneering rhizomes. The species also reproduces by seed, although in some seasons the plant flowers only sparingly.

First recognised as a British plant in 1861, though the sedge had been collected in East Anglia by Babington as early as 1838. A number of East Anglian sites have been lost because of ploughing or other disturbance of its native grasslands, or by competition from coarse grasses following the reduction of grazing. 

This sedge is scattered in suitable sites throughout northern and central Europe from Scandinavia and Russia (to 68 °N), as far south as northern Spain, central France, northern Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and the Caucasus, ascending to 2460 metres in the mountains. It is also found in Siberia (Urals).

For a detailed account of the British distribution, see David (1981a).


R. W. David

PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Atlas text references

Atlas (362a)
David RW
1981.  The distribution of Carex ericetorum Poll. in Britain. Watsonia. 13:225-226.
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Jermy AC, Chater AO, David RW
1982.  Sedges of the British Isles. Botanical Society of the British Isles Handbook no. 1, edn 2.
Meusel H, Jäger E, Weinert E
1965.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.