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Community Field Guide

Scientific Name:
Salix candida / Carex utriculata Shrubland

Common Name:
Hoary willow / beaked sedge Shrubland

Community Description

Sage Willow Fen is found in the northern Rocky Mountains of the United States, including the Black Hills. In the single site in the Black Hills, at McIntosh Fen, it occurs in a broad drainage bottom in a wetland fed in part by springs issuing from adjacent limestone strata. Stands consist of small patches of Salix candida, Salix serissima, Salix exigua, Salix bebbiana, and Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda (= Pentaphylloides floribunda). Any of these shrubs may be locally dominant. Common herbaceous species include Carex rostrata, Carex nebrascensis, Juncus balticus, Calamagrostis canadensis, and wetland forbs.

This community is found in montane to lower subalpine habitats in western, southwestern, and central Montana. It occurs on peat deposits that have developed around the margins of lakes and ponds, particularly as floating mats, and around springs/seeps. These sites are seasonally flooded and have water tables at or near the surface throughout the growing season. Adjacent wetter communities often include Carex lasiocarpa floating mats or other Carex-dominated plant associations on peaty substrates, Salix wolfii / Carex aquatilis or Salix boothii -dominated associations; rooted aquatic vegetation like Nuphar sp., Potamogeton spp. or simply open water characterize more hydric regimes. Adjacent drier communities include those dominated by Pentaphylloides floribunda / Deschampsia cespitosa or Juncus balticus. Uplands are usually dominated by coniferous forest (Hansen et al. 1995).

Salix candida grows as a low shrub (to 1.5m) and usually dominates the shrub layer, although canopy coverage tends to be low (10%-40%, average 14%). It is only due to the high constancy and low- to moderate-coverage of many other shrub species that this plant association can be considered a shrubland and not a shrub herbaceous type, though many stands in fact are more appropriately characterized as the latter type. Notable among these other shrubs is Betula nana (73 % constant, 19% average cover), Pentaphylloides floribunda (75% constant, 12% cover), Salix planifolia (38% constant, 3% cover) and Cornus sericea (33% constant, 7% cover). A dense cover of a variable mix of the following graminoids dominates the undergrowth; Carex utriculata, Carex aquatilis, Carex simulata, Carex livida, Carex limosa, Calamagrostis stricta, Muhlenbergia spp. and Juncus balticus. The fact that so many Carex species of such varied ecologies are found within this association argues for at least reconsidering partitioning this variability into more types. Forb coverage is usually low (Hansen et al. 1995) but, Triglochin maritimum and Menyanthes trifoliata can also comprise significant amounts of cover. The following forbs are present in at least a third of the sample plots, Allium schoenoprasum, Antennaria anaphaloides, Aster juncifolia, Equisetum arvense, Viola nephrophylla and Parnassia palustris.

This community has been described only from Montana and Idaho; it should also be listed as reported from the Yellowstone National Park of Wyoming.

The organic soils of this type are easily damaged by livestock use, especially when wet, however, due to the wetness of this type it most likely does not receive much livestock use in any case. The response of Salix candida to fire has not been documented.

Global Rank: G3 State Rank: S3

Community References


99-10-18 / J. Greenlee, MTNHP

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This information is from the:
Montana Natural Heritage Program
Montana State Library--Natural Resource Information System
1515 East Sixth Ave., Helena, MT 59620-1800
406 444-5354