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Nutsedge and Ornamental Sedges: What’s the Difference?

Yellow Nutsedge
Pacocha Landscaping Services, Inc.
Mary H. Meyer, Extension Horticulturist and Professor, University of Minnesota

Nutsedge is an aggressive long-lived weed (some consider it one of the world’s 5 worst weeds) in the genus Cyperus whereas the ornamental sedges are in the genus Carex and although some are aggressive, they can easily be controlled. Taxonomically, the ornamental sedges have separate male and female flowers, born separately along the flowering stem, whereas yellow nutsedge has perfect flowers that are in a terminal, fairly conspicuous umbel (upside down umbrella) cluster, see image below. Yellow nutsedge, Cyperus esculentus, and Carex spp. are both in the Cyperaceae family which is known for triangular stems and leaves in three ranks thus the rhyme: Sedges have edges, grasses are round and hollow right up from the ground.

When you pull up yellow nutsedge, you might get a small tuber often referred to as a nut at the end of the root, thus the common name ‘nut sedge’. This tuber is edible (the word esculentus means edible) and is grown for food in some cultures, earth almond is another common name. The tuber is a great source of stored food and helps the plant to grow, from as deep as 32 inches; it also makes translocation of chemical control difficult, as tubers can escape systemic chemicals, remain viable although dormant for as long as 10 years in the soil, and one plant can produce hundreds if not thousands of tubers in a year. Nutsedge has evolved to be a long lasting plant, and a great weed!

Photo by Jack Kelly Clark,
courtesy University of California
Statewide IPM Program
Yellow nutsedge prefers wet sites, but it will grow in many soil types and can flower when quite short at even 6-8 inches in height. The flowers are an umbel or cluster of several stems arising from a central point. Each flower has thousands of viable seeds, so removing flowers does help control the plants, but by far the small tubers and rhizomes are the primary means of propagation.

Yellow nutsedge is very aggressive; its pointy foliage can pierce black plastic and organic mulches. It often grows in patches with many plants quickly covering an area. For years I have had it in my community vegetable garden in Plymouth. While it is less common in cultivated areas, it still persists due to the heavy stand it makes each summer in the walkways between vegetable plots. Even walking on it does not slow its growth.

Control for yellow nutsedge is either vigilant cultivation and removal of plants, tubers, and rhizomes by hand and mechanical tilling; or repeated use of non-selective herbicide. Nutsedge is a difficult weed to control, but it can be managed.

View additional nutsedge images along with a list of appropriate herbicides.

Pennsylvania sedge, Carex pensylvanica
flowers in early spring in MN
and tolerates dry shady sites.
Photo: Mary H. Meyer
Comparison of Nutsedge and Ornamental Sedges

  • Cyperus genus (perfect flowers in terminal clusters)
  • Shiny, yellow-green foliage
  • White leaf base
  • Triangular stems; 3 ranked foliage
  • Leaves have conspicuous midrib
  • Fast growing, Very aggressive
  • Small nut among roots
  • Yellow umbel of flowers

Landscape or Ornamental sedges
  • Carex genus (male and female flowers separate, often separated along stem)
  • Foliage color varies: striped, blue-green, green, coarse to fine texture
  • Leaf bases red, brown or green, not bright white
Sprengel’s sedge, Carex sprengelii
is an easy to grow native sedge in MN.
Photo: Mary H. Meyer
  • Triangular stems, three ranked foliage, but may be difficult to locate with much of the plant being basal foliage
  • Slower growing
  • No nut like bulbs at roots
  • Flowers brown or green, usually not conspicuous, often along stem


Lanini, W. T. and Wertz, B. Yellow Nutsedge. accessed 4 December 2015. Penn State Extension.

Shonbeck, M. Weed Profile: Yellow Nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus and Purple Nutsedge (C. rotundus). Organic Agriculture at eXtension. Accessed 8 December 2015.

Uva, R. J. Neal, and J. Ditomaso. 1997. Weeds of the Northeast. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y.
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