Carex rupestris

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaCyperaceaeCarexCarex rupestris


A perennial herb of basic substrates on cliff ledges and crevices, and on broken rocky or grassy slopes, always over base-rich rocks. It is often a shy flowerer, and it sometimes grows with C. pulicaris with which it can be easily confused. Found near sea level in N.W. Scotland, but usually from 600 m, to 935 m on Ben Lawers (Mid Perth).



World Distribution

Circumpolar Arctic-montane element.

© Pete Stroh

Broad Habitats

Light (Ellenberg): 8

Moisture (Ellenberg): 4

Reaction (Ellenberg): 7

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 2


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 0.7

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 11.5

Annual Precipitation (mm): 1699

Life form information

Height (cm): 20

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary




Clonality - primary

Rhizome shortly creeping

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 31

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: 0.27

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Carex rupestris All.

Rock sedge

Status: scarce


This sedge is aptly named for it is most often found, frequently with Dryas octopetala, on steep cliffs to which its conglomerate tufts are anchored by the deep penetration of their rhizomes into cracks in the rock; but it may also colonise damp moraines and grazed turf of ground below cliffs. It is a strict calcicole which forms extensive but very local colonies on the calcareous mica-schists of the Grampians and Cairngorms and on the dolomitic limestones of Skye, Kishorn and Sutherland. Its typical associates include C. capillaris, C. flacca, Festuca ovina, Galium boreale, Linum catharticum, Persicaria vivipara, Saxifraga aizoides, Thymus polytrichus, Viola riviniana, Ctenidium molluscum and Tortella tortuosa. In the central Highlands it is a montane species growing above 600 metres and reaching 900 metres at Fin Glen in Glen Lyon, but in the far north it descends to near sea level at Durness. 

In some localities it flowers only very sparingly, but in others sets abundant seed. In any case the tufts are evidently long-lived.

C. rupestris has been overlooked in many places until recently, and there is little evidence of significant decline. Threats are probably few, but might arise from proposals to quarry Durness limestone outcrops.

An arctic-alpine, C. rupestris is found all along the arctic coasts of Europe (including Spitzbergen and Novaya Zemlya), Asia and America from Kamchatka to Alaska. It descends the chain of the Rockies as far south as Colorado; and occurs on suitable soils in all the higher mountains (Pyrenees, Alps, Caucasus, Urals, Himalayas).

For a detailed account of its British distribution, see David (1979b).


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 (370a)
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.