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Community Field Guide

Scientific Name:
Carex lanuginosa Herbaceous Vegetation

Common Name:
Woolly sedge Herbaceous Vegetation

Community Description

This plant association occurs along stream channels, and in depressions and swales along floodplains at low to moderate elevations in the western U.S. from Washington to Montana south to Oregon, Utah, and Colorado. It also has been reported from British Columbia, Canada. These wetlands form small to medium-sized meadows. Carex pellita (= Carex lanuginosa), a distinctive wetland-indicator species, clearly dominates stands with 30-80% cover. Low species diversity, with few associates having high constancy, is characteristic. Deschampsia caespitosa, Carex microptera, Carex nebrascensis, Carex simulata, Carex praegracilis, Elymus glaucus, Juncus balticus, Schoenoplectus pungens (= Scirpus pungens), Equisetum arvense, and Equisetum hyemale are sometimes present with low cover. On the eastern plains of Colorado, it can occur under a canopy of cottonwood trees, forming Populus deltoides / Carex pellita Woodland (CEGL002649).

Carex lanuginosa communities can be found at low to mid-elevations in western and central Montana. These marsh communities are usually found in depressions, older riverine sloughs, wet meadow areas along creeks, and in wetlands formed by springs and seeps. Stands primarily occur on mildly brackish mineral soils that seasonally flood, but usually dry down by late summer. Adjacent wetter communities include shallow marsh communities dominated by Carex utriculata, Carex aquatilis, Carex nebrascensis or Scirpus maritimus, while adjacent drier, less frequently flooded communities may be dominated by Deschampsia cespitosa, Juncus balticus, Distichlis stricta, or stands of exotic pasture grasses like Phleum pratense and Poa palustris. Upland communities are often dominated by Artemisia cana or Artemisia tridentata at lower elevations and by the Abies lasiocarpa and Pseudotsuga menziesii series at higher elevations.

The general impression of this association is of a graminoid-dominated marsh where shrubs and forbs are a minor component. Carex lanuginosa typically dominates these communities and due to its rhizomatous habit often forms dense stands with heavy cover. This association, at least as it is broadly conceived, is best documented for Montana (32 plots from Hansen et al. 1995). Accepting that high coverages of Carex lasiocarpa and Carex buxbaumii define separate plant associations, then the only graminoids of even moderate constancy (>20%) for this association (as it occurs in Montana) are Calamagrostis stricta, Carex utriculata, Deschampsia cespitosa and Juncus balticus. Commonly associated forbs include Mentha arvensis, Potentilla anserina, Potentilla palustris and Triglochin maritimum. A number of forbs, including Equisetum spp., occasionally attain high cover values (>30%).

Carex pellita (=Carex lanuginosa) dominated communities have also been documented for Idaho (Hall and Hansen 1997, Jankovsky- Jones 1997) and eastern Oregon (Kovalchik 1987).

Carex lanuginosa is highly palatable and communities can be adversely impacted by season-long grazing, particularly when grazing management practices cause increased downcutting of stream channels, which in turn alters the hydrology of Carex lanuginosa communities located in floodplain settings. However, due to the rhizomatous habit of this sedge, disturbed sites do stand a chance of improving rapidly once the disturbance is removed and if the disturbance level isnít too high (Kovalchik 1987).

Global Rank: G3 State Rank: S?

Global Rank Comments:
This association has been documented in small stands throughout much of the western United States and Canada. High-quality stands are uncommon due to improper grazing by livestock, hydrologic alterations, and ground-disturbing activities. The diagnostic species in this association is very palatable to livestock when young. Stands may be dry at the surface as early as July allowing season-long livestock utilization. Overuse by livestock can result in introduction of non-native species such as Poa pratensis and Taraxacum officinale or an increase in less palatable species such as Carex nebrascensis and Juncus balticus. Overuse by livestock can also result in stream downcutting that may permanently change the site potential from a wet to a dry meadow. Phalaris arundinacea, an additional non-native species, may become established due to alteration of hydrology or sediment inputs. Meadows that support stands of Carex pellita are often used for hay pasture and may be drained, ditched and flood irrigated, or seeded with pasture grasses to increase hay production.

Community References


99-10-05 / J. Greenlee, MTNHP

Bourgeron and Engelking 1994, Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997, Driscoll et al. 1984, Evenden 1990, Hansen et al. 1988b, Hansen et al. 1995, Kittel et al. 1995, Kittel et al. 1999, Kovalchik 1987, Manning and Padgett 1995, Padgett et al. 1988b, Padgett et al. 1989

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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