Carex capillaris

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaCyperaceaeCarexCarex capillaris


A perennial herb of base-rich upland grasslands, particularly those flushed by calcareous springs, and moist limestone or mica-schist crags, slopes and ledges. Though it can tolerate some shading, it is generally found in open situations and short vegetation, often in species-rich communities. It is usually found at moderate or high altitudes, reaching 1035 m on Ben Lawers (Mid Perth), but it descends to sea level in N. Scotland.



World Distribution

Circumpolar Boreo-arctic Montane element.

© Pete Stroh

Broad Habitats

Calcareous grassland (includes lowland and montane types)

Light (Ellenberg): 9

Moisture (Ellenberg): 6

Reaction (Ellenberg): 8

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 2

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 1.2

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 11.9

Annual Precipitation (mm): 1636

Height (cm): 40

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary




Clonality - primary

Tussock-forming graminoid, may slowly spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 120

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: -0.35

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Carex capillaris L.

Hair sedge


This is a montane sedge growing in short herb-rich grassland, closed marshes with low vegetation, open hummocky marshes and flushes, and on steep rock faces and ledges. It is a strict calcicole, growing especially on limestone and calcareous mica-schists, but also on lime-rich dolerite, gneiss, greywackes, sandstones and blown shell sand, Substrates vary from dry to permanently wet, though usually with some lateral water movement. C. capillaris has a wide variety of associates, from species such as C. rupestris, Dryas octopetala, Festuca vivipara, Persicaria vivipara, Potentilla crantzii, Salix reticulata, Silene acaulis and Thymus polytrichus in dry habitats; to C. dioica, Carex pulicaris, C. viridula subsp. brachyrrhyncha, C. viridula subsp. oedocarpa, Juncus triglumis, Kobresia simpliciuscula, Saxifraga aizoides, Selaginella selaginoides, Thalictrum alpinum and Tofieldia pusilla in moist situations. Its altitudinal range is from almost sea level on the north Scottish coast to at least 1025 metres on Ben Lawers.

C. capillaris is a perennial species which spreads locally by short rhizomes. Little is known of its reproduction by seed.

While it can grow in very open boreal woodland, C. capillaris may have been favoured by the destruction of forest and scrub. Although intolerant of competition from taller plants, it grows well in short swards and withstands moderate grazing; but its restriction to steep rocks in some localities suggests that this sedge may succumb to heavy grazing. In common with many calcicoles, it is adversely affected by application of fertilisers in pasture improvement. Upper Teesdale has the only large populations south of the Highlands. It is probably still present in most Scottish 10 km squares for which only pre-1970 records are available.

This is a circumpolar arctic-alpine species, occurring at sea-level on tundras in the far north but confined to high mountains further south.


D. A. Ratcliffe

Atlas text references

Atlas (356c)
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.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.