Something that all naturalists experience is finding a species that they don't know. For the average person, it is impossible to know all of nature, and my challenge, and one of my loves, is plants.
I've walked the boardwalk at Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station, Southeastern Louisiana University's facility on Main Pass near Manchac, many times.
When there recently with a Louisiana Master Naturalist class, I found a wetland plant in great abundance along the walk. I had never noticed it before, and that only means just that - that I had never noticed it before. It has probably always been there but I looked right past it while looking for other local species.
I guessed that it was a member of the genus Carex, a genus of sedge (Family Cyperaceae) that has over 2000 species and a global distribution. I had no idea what species it was, nor did I feel proficient in identifying the species that are commonly encountered. I suffice to walk by them and say, "This is Carex."
I took photos and examined specimens closely. When I got home, I did what I often do when I have unidentified plants, I send the photos or samples to an expert. This time I went to Dr. Mac Alford, the gentleman botanist from the University of Southern Mississippi. Mac normally knows everything I send, but this time he referred me to his expert - Dr. Charles Bryson of Starkville, MS. I knew I'd found the right person when his username is dr.sedge@.
Dr. Bryson responded immediately with the identification - shoreline sedge, Carex hyalinolepis. For many, that is enough information, but naturalists like to know how newly recognized species fit in the natural scheme of things.
Of course, shoreline sedge produces habitat and a hiding place for many critters that live in the area. I was also informed that shoreline sedge is the main (possibly the only) food for the rare Dukes skipper butterfly, Euphyes dukesi. If one finds shoreline sedge, Dukes skippers are not far away.
By the way, saying skipper butterfly is permissible, but is a bit redundant. Skippers are butterflies that belong to the Family Hesperiidae.
The seed heads of Carex are often football-shaped with a rough surface. When in flower, they have male (=staminate) spikes that are the terminal dark brown spikes and below are the green female spikes, the perigynia, little sacs that contain first the female flower, followed by the fruit.
It is the rugged nature of the female spikes that cause me to call out Carex when I see it.
|Shoreline sedge, Carex hyalinolepis, growing along the boardwalk at Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station, near Manchac. Photo by Bob Thomas.||Another view of shoreline sedge. It grows so thick, and among a variety of other wetland species, making it difficult to get a definitive photo (for me, at least). Photo by Bob Thomas.|
|Dukes' skipper, Euphyes dukesi, from Brunswick County, NC. Photo by Jeffrey S. Pippen, www.jeffpippen.com.||Another Dukes' skipper, same locality data. Photo by Jeffrey S. Pippen, www.jeffpippen.com.|
|Yet another view of shoreline sedge. Photo by Bob Thomas.|