Plants densely cespitose. Culms dark maroon at base; flowering stems 25-50 cm, as long or slightly longer than leaves at maturity, 0.4-0.6 mm thick, glabrous, sometimes scabrous on angles within inflorescence. Leaves: basal sheaths maroon, bladeless, pubescent, often only sparsely so; others grading from maroon to green on back, brown-hyaline on front, red dotted and pubescent toward apex; blades flat, 1-2 mm wide, sparsely pilose on adaxial surface, margins ciliate. Inflorescences: peduncles of lateral spike 0-35 mm; peduncle of terminal spike 5-35 mm, minutely scabrous; proximal bracts equaling or often exceeding inflorescences; sheathless and auriculate or with sheaths less than 3 mm; blades to 1 mm wide. Lateral spikes 1-3, 1 per node, each overlapping 1 above but not crowded, proximal 1 often well separated, erect to ascending, sessile or pedunculate, pistillate with 10-25 perigynia attached less than 1 mm apart, narrowly elongate, 10-35 × 2-3 mm. Terminal spike staminate, 10-24 × 1.5-2.5 mm. Pistillate scales reddish brown with narrow hyaline margins and green midrib, ovate, shorter than mature perigynia, apex rounded to acute or cuspidate, glabrous. Perigynia green, usually red dotted, 2-ribbed and conspicuously 6-10-veined, narrowly lance-ellipsoid, loosely enveloping achene, 4-4.8 × 1.2-1.5 mm, membranous, base with stipe 1 mm, apex gradually tapering to beak, pubescent toward apex; beak truncate or minutely toothed, 1 mm. Achenes substipitate, 2-2.5 × 0.8-1 mm. Fruiting summer. Rock ledges, cliffs, balds in s Appalachians; 900-1900; Ga., N.C., Tenn.