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Community Field Guide

Scientific Name:
Carex vesicaria Herbaceous Vegetation

Common Name:
Inflated sedge Herbaceous Vegetation

Community Description

In Colorado, this plant association forms open meadows similar to Carex utriculata Herbaceous Vegetation (CEGL001562). As with Carex utriculata, it occurs along the shores of lakes and ponds in shallow water, as well as in poorly drained basins and along rivers and streams. The water table typically remains above the ground surface throughout the year. A single stand of Carex vesicaria found on the Colorado West Slope has significant cover of Carex utriculata, but is distinct from the Carex utriculata plant association because of the high amount of Carex vesicaria.

The Carex vesicaria community occurs in very low gradient and wide wet meadows, floodplains, basins, and forest openings. The community is most commonly found in swales, fens, glacially formed kettle ponds, potholes, silted-in beaver ponds or ponds with blown-out dams, and other closed drainage concavities (Mattson 1984; Manning and Padgett 1995; Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997; Jankovsky-Jones [in preparation]). It is also found on poorly drained shorelines of ponds, lakes, reservoirs, springs, overflow channels, and streamside alluvial terraces that are flooded in the spring and have standing water through most of the summer growing season (Youngblood et al. 1985; Kovalchik 1987; Hansen et al. 1988; Padgett et al. 1989; Jankovsky-Jones 1996; Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997; Jankovsky-Jones 1997; Jankovsky-Jones [in preparation]). The spring and early summer water depth varies from 12 to over 50 cm (occasionally less, especially during drought) but drops by late summer or fall in most years (Mattson 1984; Youngblood et al. 1985; Kovalchik 1987; Jankovsky-Jones [in preparation]). After a site dries the water table drops below the surface over 30 cm, though the soil usually remains moist all year (Mattson 1984; Kovalchik 1987). This moisture flux creates pronounced mottling and gleying of deeper mineral soil. Soils are usually deep, fine-textured mineral or organic silt loams with high organic matter accumulation and water holding capacity.

Species diversity is relatively low in the Carex vesicaria community. Carex vesicaria is clearly dominant, forming dense stands 35 to 60 cm tall, with 40% to 80% cover and 100% constancy (Mattson 1984; Kovalchik 1987; Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997; Jankovsky-Jones [in preparation]). Shrub or tree species are rarely present with negligible cover. The importance of other associated species varies due to the moisture characteristics (e.g. permanently flooded versus seasonally flooded) of each Carex vesicaria stand (Mattson 1984). For example, the wettest phase of the Carex vesicaria community, where standing water is over 30 cm in the spring, has low diversity and is composed of mainly Carex vesicaria with low cover of other species such as Carex utriculata (Mattson 1984; Kovalchik 1987). Sites with less spring standing water, which may dry only in the fall, have higher cover of Carex aquatilis (less than 7% cover and 23% constancy) with low cover of Deschampsia cespitosa, Calamagrostis canadensis, and Galium species (Mattson 1984; Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997). Other species associated with Carex vesicaria on sites with long periods of standing water include: Eleocharis palustris (less than 18% cover and 45% constancy), Juncus balticus (less than 8%cover and 42% constancy), Glyceria borealis, Sparganium species (e.g. Sparganium emersum, Sparganium eurycarpum), Equisetum fluviatile, Zizania aquatica, Carex atherodes, Polygonum species, Phalaris arundinacea, and Utricularia species (Mattson 1984; Kovalchik 1987; Hansen et al. 1988; Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997; Jankovsky-Jones 1998). Better-drained sites, which are flooded in spring but dry in summer, are co-dominated by Deschampsia cespitosa (less than 12% cover and 75% constancy) or Aster foliaceus (less than 12% cover and 23% constancy) (Mattson 1984; Kovalchik 1987; Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997). Other species commonly associated with Carex vesicaria in these stands include Carex nebrascensis (less than 31% cover and 42% constancy), Carex aquatilis, Epilobium watsonii, Antennaria corymbosa, Galium species, Camassia quamash, Mentha arvensis, Senecio species, and others (Mattson 1984; Kovalchik 1987; Hansen et al. 1988; Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997; Jankovsky-Jones [in preparation]). Due to long periods of flooding, the cover of mosses, lichens, and liverworts is low. In contrast, the ground is either bare or deep litter (forming a peat layer).

Carex vesicaria is a major community type with a widespread range. It is known from the following areas; central and northeastern Oregon (Kovalchik 1987; Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997); Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere in western Wyoming (Mattson 1984; Youngblood et al. 1985); Uinta Mountains of Utah (Padgett et al. 1989); most of Montana (Hansen et al. 1988); the Henry's Fork basin of eastern Idaho (Youngblood et al. 1985; Jankovsky-Jones 1996) and northern Idaho (Jankovsky-Jones 1997; Jankovsky-Jones [in preparation]); both sides of the Cascade Mountains in Washington (Mattson 1984; Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997); and the eastside of the Sierra Nevada along the California-Nevada border (Manning and Padgett 1995). The Carex vesicaria community is probably circumboreal in distribution (Mattson 1984).

The semi-permanently flooded Carex vesicaria stands are not usually grazed or impacted by recreation and other uses. However, if wetlands are drained or filled, or the hydrology otherwise altered (such as removal of beaver and their dams), the community will disappear (Hansen et al. 1995). Livestock usually avoid extremely wet organic soils, but on sites which dry by late summer, grazing of Carex vesicaria can occur (Kovalchik 1987; Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997). Carex vesicaria is moderately to highly palatable and can be important in late summer when other forage is less available. It is more palatable than Carex utriculata and may be selected for (Hansen et al. 1995; Hall and Hansen 1997). Though the dense sod of Carex vesicaria resists grazing and trampling damage (Hansen et al. 1988), overuse can damage soils, reduce Carex vesicaria cover, and promote dominance by other mesic graminoids and grazing tolerant forbs (Kovalchik 1987; Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997). Associated species, such as Deschampsia cespitosa, will also decrease under heavy grazing and less palatable species, such as Juncus balticus will increase (Hansen et al. 1995; Hall and Hansen 1997). Eventually the community may convert to Carex nebrascensis or exotic species such as Phalaris arundinacea. The community should not be grazed too low so that the vegetation cannot function as a sediment filter. Carex vesicaria is effective in reducing erosion and stabilizing streambanks due to its sod forming rhizomes. It is also of high value for wetland revegetation (Hansen et al. 1995; Hall and Hansen 1997). The Carex vesicaria community will burn only in late summer or fall then dry. Fire will reduce litter and increase productivity for several years. However, if peat soils are dry enough they will burn hot and kill Carex vesicaria rhizomes (Kovalchik 1987; Crowe and Clausnitzer 1997).

Global Rank: G4Q State Rank: S4

Community References


1998-01-09 / C. Murphy

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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