Engelm., Trans. Acad. Sci. St. Louis 2: 440 (1866)
T: California, Monterey, 24 May 1861, W.H.Brewer [Calif. State Surv.] 651; holo: MO; iso: K, MO, UC.
Perennials, (20–) 30–80 (–140) cm tall; rhizome blackish, 2–9 mm thick, creeping (sometimes almost vertical in sand), with long internodes but stems often tufted on short rhizome branches. Cataphylls few; upper cataphylls (2–) 4–13 cm long, lax above, mostly castaneous-brown to dark castaneous-brown, ±glossy. Stem leafless, terete or slightly compressed, 1–2.5 (–3) mm thick, hard and wiry, mostly tortuous or arching, occasionally straight, smooth, faintly ridged when dry; subepidermal sclerenchyma strands absent; pith continuous. Lower bract (3–) 6–20 (–40) cm long, arching, 1/10–2 times as long as stem; middle bracts 2–7 mm long, with broad scarious margins. Inflorescence mostly compact, headlike, rarely up to 2.5 cm long; flowers mostly 10–20; longest peduncle usually to 3 mm. Bracteoles broadly ovate, c. 3.5 mm long, acute, pale castaneous, distally paler to scarious. Outer tepals lanceolate, 5–7 (–8) mm long, acute to acuminate, usually longer than inner ones, all castaneous-brown to purplish-brown with broad greenish centre and brownish or (in the inner) light membranous margins. Stamens 6; anthers 1.6–2.0 mm long; filaments c. 0.4 mm long; style c. 1.0–1.2 mm long; stigmas c. 2.0–2.5 mm long. Capsule trilocular, 3–5 mm long, shorter than the tepals, oblong-ovoid, acute, mucronate, castaneous at least above, shining. Seeds ovoid, 0.7–1.1 × 0.4–0.5 mm, apiculate, dark brown; outer seed coat mostly loose, faintly reticulate; appendages absent.