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Community Field Guide

Scientific Name:
Carex aquatilis Herbaceous Vegetation

Common Name:
Aquatic sedge Wet Meadow

Community Description

In Colorado, this common, widespread herbaceous vegetation occurs as large meadows in high montane valleys or as narrow strips bordering ponds and streams at lower elevations. It occurs in a variety of environmental settings in the montane and subalpine zones. A clear dominance by Carex aquatilis and low cover of Carex utriculata or Pedicularis groenlandica sets this plant association apart from closely related types. ^Information on stands that occur outside Colorado will be added later.

Carex aquatilis communities can be found at mid- (2,300 feet) to high-elevations (8,200 feet, plus) throughout Montana. It is typically found in depressional landforms, old channels along streams, fens, and in silted beaver ponds. This community occurs on both mineral and organic soils, though more commonly on the latter. Soil reactions are usually acidic, and water levels in Carex aquatilis communities usually remain high throughout the growing season, occasionally dropping below the rooting zone in dry years. Adjacent wetter communities include Carex utriculata and Carex lasiocarpa stands, while drier communities could include Juncus balticus, Calamagrostis canadensis, or meadows dominated by Deschampsia cespitosa (Hansen et al. 1988).

Carex aquatilis is clearly the dominant species in this plant association, although it can be found growing with significant coverage of other graminoids, particularly Carex utriculata and Carex simulata in the wetter environments or Deschampsia cespitosa in the somewhat drier phase of the same name. Hansen et al. (1995) have arbitrarily established that 25% or greater canopy cover of Carex utriculata denotes a shift from the Carex aquatilis to the wetter Carex utriculata association. Low coverage of shrubs such as Salix sp. or Pentaphylloides floribunda may also be found growing in this association. Low coverage of a variety of forbs may be found in this community; these forbs may include Mentha arvensis, Galium trifidum, Aster occidentalis, and Epilobium ssp. (Hansen et al. 1995, Hansen et al. 1988).

Similar plant communities have been documented by other studies in eastern Oregon (Kovalchik 1987), Idaho (Hall and Hansen 1997), Utah (Padgett et al. 1989), Nevada (Manning and Padgett 1995), Wyoming (Youngblood et al. 1985), and Colorado (Kittel et al. 1998).

Carex aquatilis is considered moderately palatable to livestock, and poor grazing management practices can impact this plant community by causing decreases in Deschampsia cespitosa and increases in Juncus balticus and exotic grasses, and through trampling damage to organic soils. However, due to the rhizomatous habit of this sedge, disturbed sites do stand a chance of improving rapidly once the disturbance level is reduced (Kovalchik 1987). This speciesí rhizomes can also strongly anchor and stabilize streambanks.

Global Rank: G5 State Rank: S4

Community References


99-10-05 / 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