Navajo Sedge

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Navajo Sedge

Carex specuicola

ListedMay 8, 1985
FamilyCyperaceae (Sedge)
DescriptionTall, grasslike perennial forming dense clumps.
HabitatSilty soils at shady seeps and springs.
ThreatsLimited distribution.
RangeArizona, Utah


Navajo sedge, Carex specuicola, is a grasslike, perennial plant with triangular stems, 10-16 in (25-40 cm) high, that grow in clumps from a long, slender rhizome. Long, narrow, wispy leaves are pale green, 4.5-8 in (12-20 cm) long, and clustered from the base. Female flowers are gathered in two or four lower spikes. A central spike bears female flowers above male flowers. The inconspicuous flowers consist of small, green-brown, scalelike parts. Plants flower and set seed from spring to summer, but the plant reproduces primarily by sending up new shoots from the rhizome.


Navajo sedge grows in dense colonies in damp, sandy to silty soils around shady, spring-fed seepages. Surrounding vegetation is pinyon-juniper woodlands. Habitat elevation is between 5,600 and 5,900 ft (1,700 and 1,800 m). Average annual precipitation is 7.6 in (19.3 cm).


Considered endemic to Coconino County, in north-central Arizona, Navajo sedge was probably never very common outside of its current distribution.

As of the late 1990s, Navajo sedge was found at three sites near Inscription House Ruin on the Navajo Indian Reservation (Coconino County), Arizona, and at a fourth site in Utah. In 1980, surveys found all three Arizona sites to be healthy. An estimate of the total number of stems was not available, nor would it necessarily reflect the number of discrete plants, since many stems may be clones of a single plant. Each colony covered an area of about 2,150 sq ft (200 sq m) around the springs and along outflows. The Utah population, within the Navajo Nation near Monument Valley in southern San Juan County, was discovered in 1991 by botanists with the Navajo Natural Heritage Program; the discovery marked the first time this plant had been located outside Arizona.


The springs that support the three Navajo sedge populations are also used to water livestock. While some danger of trampling exists, the current watering arrangements seem to work well to channel water into troughs away from the plants and to keep damage to plants at a minimum. Increasing the numbers of livestock in the region would certainly increase damage to these populations.

Conservation and Recovery

If ranchers increase their livestock population, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would consider fencing the plant sites. Livestock grazing is regulated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and permits could be modified or revoked if necessary.

For now, the FWS and the BIA are content to monitor the populations to maintain the current equilibrium. Critical habitat for Navajo sedge has been designated to include the immediate vicinities of the three known Arizona populations.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
P.O. Box 1306
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87103-1306
Telephone: (505) 248-6911
Fax: (505) 248-6915

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
P.O. Box 25486
Denver Federal Center
Denver, Colorado 80225


Howell, J. T. 1949. "Three New Arizona Plants."Leaflets of Western Botany 5 (9): 148.

Phillips, A. M., et al. "Status Report: Carex specuicola J. T. Howell." U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1987. "Endangered and Threatened Species of Arizona and New Mexico (with 1988 Addendum)." U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque.