Perennials, 10–60 (–80) cm tall, forming dense rows of stems; rhizome ±short-noded sparsely branched, with several flowering stems and rarely a few 1-leaved sterile shoots. Stem usually leafless, terete, 1–1.5 mm diam., smooth; ridges low, 20–25, inconspicuous when fresh; subepidermal sclerenchyma strands present, often irregular in form and distribution, sometimes a few connected to vascular bundles; epidermis cells uniform; bundles in one row; pith in mature stem diffuse, arachnoid. Cataphylls 3–4; uppermost cataphylls 3–10 cm long, with short awnlike or rarely to 20 cm long blade, ±tight, light stramineous. Lower bract 5–30 (–40) cm, (1/2–) 1–1.5 times as long as stem, with narrow sheath. Inflorescence pseudolateral, usually dense, 4–10-flowered. Bracteoles ovate, c. 1 mm long, acute. Tepals lanceolate; outer tepals longer, 2.5–3.5 mm long, apiculate to mucronate; inner tepals obtuse, stramineous with broad scarious margin. Stamens 6; anthers 0.5–0.6 mm long; 1/2–2/3 as long as c. 0.7–0.9 mm filaments; style 0.1 mm long; stigmas c. 1 mm long. Capsule triseptate, broadly trigonous-ovoid to ±globose, 2.5–3.5 mm long, equalling to slightly shorter than outer tepals, obtuse, shortly or not mucronate, greenish to light brown. Seeds 0.5 × 0.3 mm, obliquely ovoid, irregularly and inconspicuously reticulate, with one indistinct appendage. 2n = 80, fide Á.Löve & D.Löve, Univ. Colorado Stud., ser. biol., 24: 25 (1966); 2n = 84, fide S.Snogerup, in Ö.Nilsson & S.Snogerup, Bot. Not. 124: 311 (1971); R.L.Taylor & G.A.Mulligan, Fl. Queen Charlotte Is. 2: 44 (1968); 2n = 70, fide N.A.Harriman & D.Redmond, Rhodora 78: 731 (1976).
Tepals 2.5–3.5 mm long; capsule not mucronate; cataphylls tight, pale stramineous; flowers 4–10, several on peduncles either straight or slightly curved before anthesis; Upper cataphyll with an awn-like blade to c. 0.5 cm long (rarely in a population some plants with leaf blades to 20 cm long) or blade absent; lower bract usually 10–30 cm long; anthers shorter than filaments.
Temperate areas of N hemisphere. 10: DEN, FIN, GRB, ICE, NOR, SWE. 11: AUT, BGM, CZE, GER, NET, POL, SWI. 12: FRA, POR, SPA. 13: BUL, ITA, ROM, YUC. 14: BLR, BLT, RUC, RUE, RUN, RUW. 30: ALT, BRY, CTA, IRK, KRA, TVA, WSB, YAK. 31: KAM, KHA, KUR, MAG, PRM, SAK. 33: NCS, TCS. 34: TUR. 36: CHM, CHX. 38: JAP. 70: ASK, GNL, NWT, YUK. 71: ABT, BRC, MAN, SAS. 72: LAB, NBR, NFL, NSC, ONT, PEI, QUE. 73: COL, IDA, MNT, ORE, WAS, WYO. 74: MIN, NEB, WIS. 75: MAI, MAS, MIC, NWH, NWJ, NWY, PEN, VER, WVA. 76: UTA.
10. DENMARK: FINLAND: Pohjois-Pohjanmaa, 5 km S of Kuivaniemi, seashore S of Halttula, S.Snogerup 3319 (LD).
11. POLAND: Silesia, Niwnice nera Lwowek Śląski, E.Koziol [Fl. Sil. Exs.] 893 (KRA, KRAM, LD, WRSL).
12. SPAIN: Huesca, Tortiella, Alto de Candanchu, 2100 m, 21 Aug 1970, P.Montserrat (JACA).
30. IRKUTSK: Slyudyanka, Khamar-Daban Mtns, Slyudyanka Ck, 16 Aug 1968, V.Va.ák (PR).
34. TURKEY: Coruh, Savval Tepe above Murgul, 2100 m, P.H.Davis & I.C.Hedge 32368 (BM, E, K). 70. ALASKA: Copper Center, F.Went 233 (LD). 72. LABRADOR: Goose Bay, J.M.Gillett & W.I.Findlay 5585 (DAO, LD). QUEBEC: Gaspe County, Table-top Mtn, M.L.Fernald & J.F.Collins 190 (GH, LD).
73. OREGON: Hood River Co., Lost Lake, Mt. Hood, Thompson 11201 (LD).
75. NEW HAMPSHIRE: Plainfield, 7 Sep 1879, H.G.Jesup (LD).
Various at least temporarily wet habitats, usually on acid soils. In the north from near sea level to low alpine zone, in the south mostly in high mountains up to 2200 m or more.