Plants densely to loosely cespitose; rhizomes ascending or horizontally spreading, reddish brown to dark reddish purple, 0–70 mm, slender. Culms 10–45 cm, smooth to scabrous distally; bases (remnants of old leaves) slightly or not at all fibrous. Leaf blades pale to bright green, shorter to longer than culms, 0.8–2.5 mm wide, herbaceous, smooth to scabrous abaxially, papillose to scabrous adaxially. Inflorescences with both staminate and pistillate spikes; peduncles of staminate spikes 0.4–9.9 mm; proximal nonbasal bracts leaflike, shorter than inflorescences. Spikes: proximal pistillate spikes 1–4 (basal spikes 0); cauline spikes overlapping, proximal 2 spikes usually separated by less than 7 mm, with 4–14 perigynia; staminate spikes 5–14 × 0.5–1.8 mm. Scales: pistillate scales pale to dark reddish brown, with narrow white margins, lanceolate to ovate or obovate, 2.2–3.4 × 0.4–1.8 mm, equaling or exceeding perigynia, apex usually acuminate, sometimes acute or mucronate; staminate scales lanceolate to ovate, 2.8–6 × 0.6–1.9 mm, apex acute to acuminate. Anthers 1.5–2.7 mm. Perigynia pale green, veinless, ellipsoid, 2.3–3.3 × 0.8–1.2 mm, longer than wide; beak straight, pale green, 0.6–1.1 mm, weakly ciliate-serrulate, apical teeth 0.1–0.4 mm. Stigmas 3. Achenes brown, ellipsoid, acutely trigonous in cross section, 1.2–1.7 × 0.7–1.3 mm.
N.B., N.S., Ont., Que., Ala., Ark., Conn., Del., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kans., Ky., La., Maine, Mass., Md., Mich., Miss., Mo., N.C., N.H., N.J., N.Y., Nebr., Ohio, Okla., Pa., R.I., S.C., Tenn., Tex., Va., Vt., W.Va., Wis., Mexico.
Varieties 3 (3 in the flora).
|1||Rhizomes long, horizontally spreading.||Carex albicans var. australis|
|1||Rhizomes short, ascending to erect.||> 2|
|2||Scales from median portion of staminate spike without prominent midrib extending to tip and without minute teeth on midrib (15X); perigynium apical teeth 0.2–0.3 mm; staminate spikes 8.4–11.1 mm.||Carex albicans var. albicans|
|2||Scales from median portion of staminate spike with either prominent midrib extending to tip (and sometimes beyond) or minute teeth on midrib (15X); perigynium apical teeth 0.1–0.3 mm; staminate spikes 2.8–4 mm.||Carex albicans var. emmonsii|