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Community Field Guide

Scientific Name:
Carex utriculata Herbaceous Vegetation

Common Name:
Beaked sedge Wet Meadow


Photo by S.V. Cooper

Community Description

Summary:
This wetland association is found throughout much of the western U.S. Stands occur in montane and subalpine areas around the edges of lakes and beaver ponds, along the margins of slow-moving reaches of streams and rivers, and in marshy swales and overflow channels on broad floodplains. Sites are flat to undulating, often with a hummocky microtopography. The water table is usually near the surface for most of the growing season. There are a wide variety of soil types for this association ranging from saturated organics or fine silty clays to clays over cobbles and alluvium to fine-loamy and sandy-skeletal. Mottling often occurs near the surface because of the high water table. The vegetation is characterized by a moderately dense to dense perennial graminoid layer dominated or codominated by Carex utriculata (20-99% cover). Stands often appear to be nearly pure Carex utriculata, but a variety of other graminoid species may be present as well. Other Carex species present include Carex lenticularis and Carex microptera, but usually with low cover. Other graminoid species that may be present include Calamagrostis canadensis, Glyceria striata, and Juncus balticus. Sparse forb cover can include Geum macrophyllum, Mentha arvensis, and Mimulus guttatus. Scattered Salix spp. shrubs may be present because these riparian shrublands are often adjacent. Salix species vary depending on elevation and geography.

Environment:
This community is widespread at moderate to high elevations in the mountains, rarely the low-elevation valleys or on volcanic plains. It occurs in a wide variety of landscape settings, such as in narrow to broad valley bottoms on meadows, seeps and stream terraces and is commonly associated with ponds and sloughs that have silted in. It can occur in standing water or on sites that become relatively dry during the latter part of the growing season. Valley bottom gradients are low (Padgett et al. 1989; Hall and Hansen 1997). Soils are classified as Histisols, Mollisols, and Inceptisols, and Entisols. Mineral soils are generally very organic-matter rich and often have an incipient histic epipedon forming at the surface. These soils may eventually become Histisols. Most of the mineral soils are fine-textured and have high water holding capacity. The soils are saturated to the surface well into the summer and the water table is usually within 2 feet of the surface late into the growing season (Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997).

Vegetation:
Carex utriculata typically exhibits monospecific dominance in this community, with dense cover. Carex nebraskensis, Carex simulata, Carex aquatilis, and/or Juncus balticus may be abundant in this species-poor community. Litter often accumulates and few species can establish on these organic, permanently saturated or inundated soils. This is why willows are rarely present in this community (Hansen et al. 1995; Manning and Padgett 1995; Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997).

Range:
This community occurs in the following states: Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado.

Management:
Though Carex utriculata produces large amounts of herbage every year, it apparently is relatively unpalatable to livestock, especially as it matures. It is coarse sedge with high amounts of silica in its leaf cells. The dense network of rhizomes and roots provides excellent streambank stabilization.

Global Rank: G5 State Rank: S5

Community References

Identifier:
CEGL001562

Author:
99-11-16 / S. V. Cooper, MTNHP, 1998-01-02 / B. Moseley

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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
http://mtnhp.org
mtnhp@mt.gov