Plants densely to loosely cespitose; rhizomes short, no more than 10 cm. Culms sharply trigonous in cross section, 20-65 cm, scabrous-angled distally. Leaves: basal sheaths reddish purple; ligules as long as to longer than wide; blades dark green, flat to W-shaped, widest leaves 2.4-4(-5) mm wide, glabrous. Inflorescences 3-16(-22) cm; proximal bract 12-40(-55) cm, greatly exceeding inflorescence; proximal 1-2(-3) spikes pistillate, proximal spreading to pendent, the distal erect, 9-14(-15) mm thick, 2.5-3.5 times as long as wide; terminal 1 spike staminate. Pistillate scales narrowly oblong, 2.9-9.8 × 0.3-0.9 mm, as long as or shorter than perigynia, margins often ciliate, apex truncate to retuse, erose and prolonged into a scabrous awn. Staminate scales scabrous-awned, sometimes ciliate-margined. Perigynia ascending to spreading, strongly 5-9-veined, veins separate nearly to beak apex, broadly ovate to nearly orbiculate, 4.8-6.5(-7.6) × 1.8-2.7 mm, apex abruptly contracted; beak 2.2-4 mm, 0.7-1.3 length of body, bidentulate, smooth, teeth straight, 0.1-0.6 mm. Stigmas 3. Achenes brown, trigonous, papillose. Fruiting Jun-Aug. Sandy, peaty, or gravelly pond, lake, and stream shores, sedge meadows, open swamps, seeps, ditches, usually in acidic soils; 200-1200 m; Que.; Ky., Maine, Md., Mass., N.H., N.Y., N.C., Pa., Tenn., Vt., Va., W.Va. Carex baileyi, a taxon confined to the Appalachian Mountain region, is very similar in appearance to C. lurida; however, it is more delicate with narrower leaves and spikes and has proportionally longer and more abruptly beaked perigynia.
Much like no. 222 [Carex lurida Wahlenb.], but seldom over 6 dm; main lvs 1-2 dm נ2-4 mm; ligule rounded, little if at all longer than wide; pistillate spikes 8-13 mm thick; perigynia 5-7 mm, the slender beak equaling or longer than the body; achene 1.5-2 mm. Swamps, woods, and wet meadows; N.H. to Va., Ky., and Tenn., chiefly in the mts.
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.