Study online to gain practical skills and confidence in identifying sedge (Cyperaceae family) species using a standard botanical key.

Person examining grass with a magnifying toolCourse overview

This online course is for ecological consultants, land managers, conservationists and all beginner/improving botanists. You will:

  • Upskill before the start of the field season, studying at a time and pace that suits you.
  • Become comfortable with sedge terminology and confident keying Carex and other sedges in a standard key.
  • Become familiar with 16 common sedge species and know how to distinguish them from similar species.
  • Recognise vegetative characteristics as well as the flower/fruit details used for keying.
  • Learn about sedge habitats.
  • Pick up fieldcraft tips for finding and identifying sedges and their habitats.
  • Have support by email, videocall and live tutorials from an experienced teacher.
  • Earn a certificate to prove your skill.

Course details

This course is fully online, using a learning model tried and tested with undergraduates, MSc students and conservation volunteers. Expect to spend about 20 hours of study time.
Lectures introduce the concepts and terminology you need to understand and use botanical keys. These are recorded so you can listen at the time that suits you and can pause, speed up or slow down the recording to take notes.
The main part of the course is practical: you will use a standard botanical key to identify a set of specimens which have been photographed (with magnification where necessary) to show the diagnostic characters. For these practical exercises you will need your own copy of either Collins Wild Flower Guide by David Streeter (2nd edition), New Flora of the British Isles by Clive Stace (4th edition), Concise Flora of the British Isles by Clive Stace or the BSBI Handbook Sedges of the British Isles by Jermy, Simpson, Foley and Porter (3rd edition). If you don’t have any of these yet, Collins Wildflower Guide with its colour pictures is probably the friendliest one to start with.
Once you have keyed out a sedge you will enter the specimen number into an online quiz to check if you are right. If you’ve made a common error, a hint will point you in the right direction but if you’re correct you’ll see fascinating facts about that species in the question feedback. In this course as in the field, identifying a species is the first step to unlocking a world of information about its ecology, biology and conservation.
Test your new knowledge with a practice quiz which shows you different photos of the species you have studied to see if you can recognise them.
Online group tutorials and email/videocall support from the course tutor will guide you if you get stuck and give the opportunity for real live botany chat.
The course tutor is Jay Mackinnon, a lecturer in applied sciences at Edinburgh Napier University since 2008 and Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) County Recorder (VCR) for West Lothian. Jay has taught plant identification with BSBI, the Botanical Society of Scotland and Plantlife as well as to students on BSc (Hons) Animal and Conservation Biology and MSc Wildlife Biology and Conservation. Jay and colleagues were teaching MSc Wildlife Biology and Conservation by distance learning even before covid made it necessary.

Start date

This course is studied at your own pace over the winter/spring to be completed before the sedge field season begins in June. New enrolments for this year will be accepted until 31 May 2024, then the course will run again in Spring 2025.


The course is assessed by an online test which asks you to recognise or key out sedge specimens and identify them correctly. Certificates are issued for successful completion.

Entry requirements

The course is suitable for anyone with an interest in identifying plants.


The course fee is £100. Edinburgh Napier students and graduates are eligible for a 30 percent discount, making the course fee £70. Please email with your matriculation number to get a discount code.

What past participants have told us...

"Lectures were really excellent and very thorough. The photographs of all the specimens for were of high quality and were very thorough and well thought out. They form a really good reference source for sedge identification. A super course."

"Wonderful photos of the detail of the plants. Really clear explanation of the anatomy in the lectures which helped me use the key."

"The materials for this course really were exceptional. I have always been a bit daunted by sedges but this course has given me confidence to get started. The level was perfect: not too basic for someone experienced in other areas of botany but not overwhelming either."