Carex podocarpa is a tufted perennial sedge that occurs widely in the mountains of Denali, a common component of lush meadows in subalpine and alpine areas on both sides of the Alaska Range. This species is 'aphyllopodic' which means it has no cluster of leaves at the base of flowering stem, and instead has reduced basal leaves, with increasingly well-developed leaves up the stem. This species does produce sterile clusters of basal leaves connected by underground rhizomes. This species has drooping spikes with long peduncles and sharply angled stems. Carex podocarpa is often confused with C. microchaeta which doesn't have leaves up the stem, instead having a cluster of basal leave (it is thus 'phyllopodic'). Carex podocarpa stems arise from a stout brown rhizome to heights of 10-70 cm tall. The stem leaves are 2-4 mm wide, abruptly pointed, with scarious tips. The subtendingbract is shorter than the inflorescence. Male and female flowers are produced in separate spikes, on the same stem. The terminal spikes (1-2) are erect and staminate, the lateral spikes (1-3) are pistillate and drooping on long peduncles. Pistillate scales are black, acute and almost as long as the perigynia. The perigynia are elliptic, blackish, with an abrupt bidentate beak. Fruits are three-angled achenes with 3 stigmas. Carex microchaeta is a similar sedge, but that plant has all basal leaves, not stem leaves.
Carex podocarpa flowers in mid-summer.
Carex podocarpa is monoecious, but male and female flowers are produced in separate spikes. Species in the genus Carex are wind pollinated, but usually also self-pollinate to some degree (Bertin 2007; Friedman and Barrett 2009). Seeds are wind and water dispersed.
Carex podocarpa is a widespread amphi-Beringian species. In North America Carex podocarpa ranges from Alaska east to the Mackenzie River valley and southwards to Oregon, Montana and Idaho. Carex podocarpa is a common sedge of meadows in Alaska, ranging over almost the entire state except for the Aleutians and southeast panhandle. It is commonly observed in mountainous areas of Denali, both north and south of the Alaska Range crest.
In Denali, Carex podocarpa is observed from 418 m to 1787 m, with an average plot elevation of 1007 m. This species slightly prefers north facing to south facing slopes. This species shows a strong preference to steeper plots with an average plot slope of 15 degrees.