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Wetland Plants and Plant Communities of Minnesota and Wisconsin

III.A. SEDGE MEADOWS


Sedge meadows are dominated by the sedges (Cyperaceae) growing on saturated soils. Most of the sedges present are in the genus Carex, but also present are those of Eleocharis (spike-rushes), Scirpus (bulrushes), and Cyperus (nut-grasses). Grasses (Gramineae), especially Canada bluejoint grass, and true rushes (Juncus), may also be present. The forb species are diverse but scattered, and may flower poorly under intense competition with the sedges.

Soils are usually composed of peat or muck. Some sedges, especially the hummock sedge, form hummocks -- also called tussocks -- that may be accentuated by grazing and frost action. Hummocks are composed of undecayed fibrous roots and rhizomes. Sedge meadows often grade into shallow marshes, calcareous fens, wet prairies, and bogs. Occasional fires stimulate spring growth of the sedges while setting back invading woody vegetation.

The sedges of the genus Carex are mostly long-lived and competitive grass-like plants that have three-ranked leaves and triangular, solid stems. These traits are also shared with some species of Scirpus and other genera of the sedge family. This is opposed to the two-ranked leaves and cylindrical, hollow stems of grasses, or the apparently "leafless," cylindrical, solid stems of rushes (Juncus). The diagnostic character of Carex that distinguishes them from all other plants is the perigynium, a papery flask- or sac-like structure that encloses the pistil, which at maturity develops into a nutlet. Mature perigynia are usually required for positive identification of the species.

There are over 150 species of Carex in Minnesota and Wisconsin, many of which are found in wetland habitats. Because they have specific habitat requirements, Carex species are good indicators of environmental conditions such as soil and water chemistry, water levels, shading, silt deposition, and floating mats.

The fertile organic soils associated with sedge meadows have traditionally been used for muck farming. The lowering of water tables through artificial drainage is suspected of causing shrub invasion in some of the remaining sedge meadows.

A sedge meadow

VEGETATION: This sedge meadow is dominated by hummock sedge (Carex stricta). Other species include lake sedge (Carex lacustris), Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), fowl bluegrass (Poa palustris), redtop (Agrostis gigantea), woolgrass (Scirpus cyperinus), marsh milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), arrow-leaved tearthumb (Polygonum sagittatum), water pepper (Polygonum hydropiper), common bugleweed (Lycopus americanus), blue vervain (Verbena hastata), swamp aster (Aster lucidulus), redstem aster (Aster puniceus), sawtooth sunflower (Helianthus grosseserratus), giant goldenrod (Solidago gigantea), boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), beggarticks (Bidens sp.) and joe-pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum).

SOILS: Clyde silty clay loam (Typic Haplaquolls), a poorly-drained mineral soil found in shallow depressions and drainageways on till plains. Landscape position of the example shown above is a depressional area in a gently rolling till plain.

HYDROLOGY: This sedge meadow is supported by groundwater and surface water runoff.

LOCATION: Cartney Wildlife Management Area, Mower County, Minnesota.

Tussocks in a sedge meadow
Note the conspicuous tussocks in this photograph of a sedge meadow, dominated by hummock sedge (Carex stricta), in Chippewa County, Wisconsin.

SPECIES ACCOUNTS:

Hummock Sedge (Carex stricta Lam.)
Woolly Sedge (Carex lanuginosa Michx.)
Canada Bluejoint Grass (Calamagrostis canadensis (Michaux) Beauv.)
Woolgrass (Scirpus cyperinus (L.) Kunth)
Green Bulrush (Scirpus atrovirens Willd.)
Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum L.)
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum L.)
Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata L.)
Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis L.)
Common Bugleweed (Lycopus americanus Muhl.)
Marsh Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata L.)
Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea L.)
Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor L.)


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