Carex plantaginea or plantain-leaved sedge is one of the easiest sedges to identify and also one of the most attractive sedges in the eastern forest. C. plantaginea is included in a group of sedges called Careyanae and sometimes included in a slightly larger group called Laxiflorae. Sedges in the Laxiflorae group can be quite difficult (at least for me) to key out to species however, the wide leaves of C. plantaginea quickly break it away from the majority of the species included in Laxiflorae. Leaves of C. plantaginea, especially on sterile shoots, measure 10 - 40mm in width, only 3 other species in the Laxiflorae group haves leaves nearing this size (C. platyphylla, C. albursina and C. careyana).
C. plantaginea and C. careyana both display red at the bases of the plant while C. platyphylla and C. albursina both lack red and appear pale white. The field sketch below shows the difference in color of the bases of C. plantaginea and C. platyphylla.
C. plantaginea lacks cauline bracts or blades while C. careyana has flat green cauline bracts and blades. The illustration below shows the top two spikes of a C. plantaginea culm, the lower of the two is the pistillate spike - notice that their is no blade or bract at the base of the spike.
This is Carex plantaginea.