Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Wetland Plants and Plant Communities of Minnesota and Wisconsin
III. INLAND FRESH MEADOWS
Inland fresh meadows are essentially closed wetland communities (nearly 100
percent vegetative cover) composed of perennial forb, grass, and sedge mixtures
growing on saturated soils. Woody plants are not dominant, and standing water
is usually only present during floods and snowmelt. Inland fresh meadows often
form a transition zone between aquatic communities and uplands. Peat/muck soils
are frequently present, indicating permanent saturation and anaerobic conditions.
Plants occurring in inland fresh meadows include species found in other communities,
such as the annuals of seasonally flooded basins, emergent aquatics of marshes,
and invading shrubs or trees, which are present as scattered, small individuals.
The forbs, grasses, and sedges of inland fresh meadows can tolerate inundation
to a greater degree than most woody species, but they suffer if inundation during
the growing season lasts for more than one or two weeks. Because these wetlands
lack standing water during most of the growing season, they are often called
Inland fresh meadows are particularly important for their water quality
protection functions. These involve the trapping of sediments and assimilation
of nutrients. Inland fresh meadows are also important for stormwater and floodwater
retention. Wildlife habitat is provided for many species including sandhill
crane, ring-necked pheasant, common snipe, sedge wren, small mammals, and
white-tailed deer. The abundance of small mammals supports mink, fox, and
raptors such as the northern harrier. The composites found in these meadows
are an important fall and winter food source for songbirds. Inland fresh meadows
are often used for pasture or cut for "marsh hay."
Inland fresh meadows include two of the rarest wetland plant communities
-- calcareous fen and wet/wet-mesic prairie -- that support a disproportionate
number of rare, threatened and endangered species.
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