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Community Field Guide

Scientific Name:
Salix drummondiana / Carex utriculata Shrubland

Common Name:
Drummond's willow / beaked sedge Shrubland

Photo by Marc Jones

Community Description

This is a broadly distributed association ranging from eastern Washington west into Montana. In Montana it has an elevation range spanning over 1525 m (5000 feet) from 700-2380 m (2300-7800 feet). Its primary habitat is adjacent to beaver ponds, mountain rivers and streams, alluvial terraces and marshes as well as seeps and springs. In southern Montana the Salix drummondiana-dominated types occupy higher elevation sites with Salix geyeriana- and Salix boothii-dominated types tending to occur at intermediate elevations, though this is not necessarily the distribution pattern in other areas. Salix drummondiana is 100% constant, its cover averaging over 50% and no other shrubs are even 50% constant or have more than 30% cover. At least in a major part of its range 10% canopy cover of any one of five Carex spp. (Carex utriculata, Carex vesicaria, Carex atherodes, Carex aquatilis, Carex lenticularis) or any combination of these five is diagnostic for the type; in the most general case Carex utriculata must dominate the herbaceous component. Modal stands tend to have Carex utriculata dominant or codominant with Carex aquatilis. A whole host of introduced graminoids proliferate with grazing disturbance. The forb component is generally insignificant, only occasionally comprising more than 10% cover. Canadanthus modestus (= Aster modestus), Symphyotrichum spathulatum var. spathulatum (= Aster occidentalis), Geum macrophyllum, Epilobium ciliatum, Comarum palustre (= Potentilla palustris), and Mentha arvensis are the forbs having both the highest constancy and coverage values.

The community is found in narrow to wide valleys on alluvial terraces adjacent to streams of low or moderate gradients (Mutz and Queiroz 1983; Hansen et al. 1995; Hall and Hansen 1997). These streams are often moderately entrenched, Rosgen C types (Kovalchik 1993). It is equally common adjacent to poorly drained or impounded areas such as beaver ponds, peatlands, lakes, marshes, seeps, springs, and road crossings (Kovalchik 1993; Moseley et al. 1994; Hansen et al. 1995). Though on mostly flat ground, channels and hummocks (Mutz and Queiroz 1983) characterize the microtopography. As with landform settings, soils vary from Entisols and Histosols to Mollisols. Soils adjacent to moderate gradient streams are often poorly developed, coarse textured, and sandy with high gravel and cobble content. These soils allow the water necessary to support Carex utriculata (=Carex rostrata) to easily pass through (Hansen et al. 1995). In wider valleys, clay and silt-loam or organic soils are more common. Gleying and mottling are often present, typical of a spring/ Summer surface water table followed by the water table dropping to 100 cm below the surface by late summer (Kovalchik 1993). Organic loam and sedge peat soils, with high available water content, are up to 1m deep and classified as Cumulic Cryaquolls and Terric, Hemic, Sapric, and Fibric Histosols (Mutz and Queiroz 1983; Kovalchik 1993). A 5 cm surface litter/duff layer may be present. The soils of this community are held together by sod mats formed by Carex species and willow cover, which effectively stabilize stream banks (Hansen et al. 1995).

The Salix drummondiana / Carex utriculata community type is variable, often having mixed Salix and Carex species present. Salix drummondiana is usually dominant with 30% to 55% covers and 70% to 100% constancy (Kovalchik 1993; Hansen et al. 1995; Jankovsky-Jones [In preparation]). Other tall willow species, such as Salix geyeriana, Salix boothii, Salix sitchensis, Salix lasiandra, Salix bebbiana, and Salix pseudomonticola, usually have less than 40% cover and less than 30% constancy. While these species form a tall shrub canopy (to 4 m), shorter species, such as Salix farriae or Salix planifolia, can be prominent in the understory (Mutz and Queiroz 1983; Kovalchik 1993; Hansen et al. 1995). Where Salix species have been reduced by beaver or overgrazing, Betula glandulosa (10% to 15% covers), Spiraea douglasii, or Ribes species may be important (Hansen et al. 1995). Picea engelmannii, Abies lasiocarpa, and Alnus incana are also occasionally present. The herbaceous layer is dominated by Carex utriculata (10% to 39% cover, about 80% constancy) and Carex aquatilis (less than 34% cover, less than 80% constancy) with Carex vesicaria also common. Other associated Carex, having low cover and constancy, include Carex lanuginosa, Carex lasiocarpa, Carex lenticularis, and Carex nebrascensis. Other common graminoid species, with low constancy but occasionally moderate cover (less than 40%), are Calamagrostis canadensis, Phalaris arundinacea, Scirpus microcarpus, Glyceria species, and Juncus species (Mutz and Queiroz 1983; Kovalchik 1993; Hansen et al. 1995; Jankovsky-Jones 1996; Jankovsky-Jones [In preparation]). Due to the dense Salix and Carex species cover, overall forb cover is low and mainly around shrub bases. Widespread species are Epilobium ciliatum, Geum macrophyllum, and Equisetum arvense. Less common species (but occasionally with higher cover) include Saxifraga arguta, Galium species, Petasites sagittatus, and Aster modestus (Mutz and Queiroz 1983; Kovalchik 1993; Hansen et al. 1995; Jankovsky-Jones 1996; Jankovsky-Jones [In preparation]). Moss cover is often high.

The Salix drummondiana / Carex utriculata community type is known from Montana, Idaho, Washington, and probably western Wyoming.

Salix drummondiana / Carex utriculata can be a productive community but will decrease if soils are damaged or hydrologic conditions change. For example, recreation trails, road building, agriculture (including draining with ditches), and livestock grazing easily damage organic soils through compaction and reduction of water holding capacity (Mutz and Queiroz 1983; Moseley et al. 1994; Hansen et al. 1995). These activities may also cause streambank sloughing, as well as premature soil drying, the loss of vegetative protection, and eventual loss of the community. Beavers are also important in maintaining necessary hydrologic conditions. Thick shrub cover and excessive wetness often limit activities in this community. Livestock forage value varies with season and historic use, but both Salix drummondiana and Carex utriculata are fair to good forage in the spring (Hansen et al. 1988; Hansen et al. 1995). Overgrazing of willows decreases their vigor and can eliminate them from the site allowing graminoid cover to increase. This may occur with a late summer and fall grazing regime, which reduces willow re-growth and allows sedges, with their underground root reserves, to later proliferate. Thus, long rest periods are needed to maintain the community (Hansen et al. 1995). Prescribed fire effectively rejuvenates dead clumps because Salix drummondiana sprouts vigorously after fire (quick, hot fires are preferred over slow, cool burns). Fires also increases Carex rostrata concentrations but only if ungrazed before and after the fire (Hansen et al. 1995). Both Salix drummondiana and Carex rostrata (and Carex aquatilis and Carex vesicaria) are excellent for re-vegetation over the long-term and provide good erosion control (Hansen et al. 1995).

Global Rank: G4 State Rank: S4

Global Rank Comments:
This association (or the environments it represents) is very common, perhaps one of the most common, Salix spp.-dominated riparian/wetland types of the Northwest and Intermountain West. Even were it to be most narrowly defined, say by the dominance of Salix drummondiana and Carex utriculata alone (other species a minor component) or by these species having very high cover values, say in excess of 50%, then this type would still be abundant. The most significant threat to this community is livestock overuse, which can lead to the reduced vigor, highlining, clubbing, or death of willows. The principal graminoids, Carex utriculata and Carex aquatilis, are not particularly palatable, but on narrow riparian or small wetland sites within extensive rangeland, these and other sedge species are heavily utilized, particularly where stocking rates are high. Vegetation trampling, hummocking and a shift to weedy species (or their introduction) occurs as a result and can result in an irremediable type conversion.

Community References


1998-11-25 / Chris Murphy

Bourgeron and Engelking 1994, Driscoll et al. 1984, Hall and Hansen 1997, Hansen et al. 1995, Kovalchik 1993, Moseley et al. 1994

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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