Sedge Medow

Unit Designation Size
9 Sedge Meadow Remnant (Swamplovers Tract) 24.5 acres



Sedge Meadow Remnant (Brooks Tract)

Shrub‐carr (Brooks Tract)

Restored Sedge Meadow

10 acres

1 acre

1.5 acres

Total Area:                                         26 acres

Remnant                                             24.5 acres

Restored                                               1.5 acres

Sedge meadow is a grassland community dominated by sedges rather than grasses. Sedge meadow occurs on soils that are saturated during most of the growing season. Standing water is usually present during the spring following snow melt, and the water table remains close to the soil surface throughout the remainder of the growing season. Similar to prairie grasslands, sedge meadow grasslands are maintained in part by periodic wildfire regimes, although wildfire in sedge meadow has a lower return interval (frequency) in this grassland type. In the absence of fire, sedge meadow is invaded and displaced by shrub‐carr and fire‐intolerant tree species such as box elder (Acer negundo), willow (Salix spp.), and cottonwood (Populous deltoides).

Tussocks created by Carex stricta, Photo by Scott  A. Milburn, UW-Steven's Point Herbarium

Tussocks created by Carex stricta, Photo by Scott A. Milburn, UW-Steven’s Point Herbarium

Perhaps the most conspicuous feature of the remnant sedge meadow are the tussock mounds formed by the tussock sedge (Carex stricta), a dominant species of this plant community. Tussock mounds (sometimes referred to as hummocks) are composed primarily of organic material (92% of the total mass), consisting of compact layers of C. stricta roots, rhizomes, senescent shoots, senescent leaves, and duff (partially decomposed humic and fulvic material) (Lawrence and Zedler 2011). Carex stricta tussocks form as an adaptation to high water levels and are an important ecological feature of these communities; research has implicated them as major drivers of species diversity and carbon storage capacity of sedge meadows. Tussocks enhance plant species diversity in sedge meadows by creating microsites with a gradient of redox potentials that can be occupied by species that are less tolerant of prolonged flooding (Vivian‐Smith 1997). Their low bulk density (Lawrence and Zedler (2011) estimate a bulk density of 0.139 g/cm3) provides aeration to the roots and rhizomes of flood‐intolerant species. A co‐dominant species of sedge meadows is Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis). Coexistence of tussock sedge and Canada bluejoint grass is enabled by character displacement. Differences in root and rhizome morphology, vertical stratification, and differences in seasonal development (C. stricta reaches its maximum growth earlier in the growing  season than C. canadensis) allow both species to occupy similar niche space without competing with each other for resources. A variety of additional species of forbs and graminoids are also present in varying abundance in sedge meadows.

A related plant community, the fresh or wet meadow (Eggers and Reed 1997), represents an alternative disturbed state that arises when wet prairie or sedge meadow is disturbed by nutrient enrichment, artificial drainage (or other hydrological disturbance), or siltation, which leads to species invasions and displacement of the original vegetation structure with an alternative species mixture. Wet meadows are dominated by aggressive, nutrient‐demanding perennial grasses and forbs, such as reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea), Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), and tall saw‐toothed sunflower (Helianthus grossesseratus).

SL sedge meadow

Prior to Euro‐American settlement, approximately one million acres of Wisconsin was sedge meadow (Curtis 1959). At present, it is difficult to assess the present acreage of Wisconsin’s sedge meadows because much of the acreage the Wisconsin DNR considers remnant sedge meadow exists in the wet meadow condition. Undisturbed sedge meadow that is free of reed canarygrass is   probably as rare as remnant prairie and savanna, especially in the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin. Recently, Zedler and Potter (2008) concluded that tussock meadows are in decline throughout the Midwest. Most of the remaining sedge meadows in Wisconsin occur north of the Tension Zone, and sedge meadow losses may be as high as 75% in southern Wisconsin.  Reasons for the decline in acreage of high‐quality sedge meadow remnant include losses due to artificial drainage for agricultural purposes, invasion by reed canarygrass, and wildfire suppression facilitating successional advancement into shrub‐carr. 

The sedge meadow remnant occurring in the southern portions of the eastern valley (unit 9) was probably spared the plow due its near‐regular wetness. Nevertheless, the presence of drainage ditches and drainage tiling systems when the property was acquired bespeaks of attempts to drain the sedge meadows for agriculture. Portions of the sedge meadow remnant still possess characteristic microtopographic features such as tall Carex stricta tussocks that are indicative of undisturbed remnant sedge meadow, but these remnants have been impacted by reed canarygrass invasion. A small (less than one acre) portion of unit 10 contains shrub‐carr species, red‐osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), speckled alder (Alnus incana subsp. rugosa), high‐bush cranberry (Viburnum opulus subsp. trilobum), and Bebb’s willow (Salix bebbii) that provides habitat structural elements for grassland birds.

Rehabilitation of these remnants to their presettlement condition is presently underway. The remnant sedge meadows of units 9 and 10 support populations of the Special Concern sedge wren (Cistothorus platensis), pickerel frog (Rana palustris), woodcock (Scolopax minor), tuberous Indian plantain (Cacalia [Arnoglossum] plantagineum), and glade mallow (Napaea dioica), the Threatened species cream gentian (Gentiana alba) and pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) on its margins, and a transplanted deme of the Endangered eastern  prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea).

Eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea)

pickerel frog (Rana palustris)

The 1.5‐acre sedge meadow planting (unit 13) was planted with 60 species at a rate of 10.5 lbs/acre (graminoid/forb ratio of 1:2.5) on 20 November 2007, with  an additional 13 species planted as plugs (live plants) or bare root tubers (aquatic vascular plants) on 11 June 2008 (Appendix A‐7). Species were planted according to a log‐series abundance curve model (Krebs 1989), a distribution thought to mimic abundance patterns in undisturbed natural areas and use up all available niche space to discourage invasion by Phalaris arundinacea (Annen, unpublished data; Wisconsin RCG Working Group 2009). To encourage transplant success, plugs were dipped in a 4.0% (a.i.) solution of cytokinin rooting hormone (X‐Cyte® growth regulator) immediately prior to planting. Seed was obtained from sedge meadow remnants on the property, from local sources near the preserve, and from local nurseries. Following removal of drainage tiles in the mid‐1990s and a ditch fill‐scrape pond construction‐wetland recontouring project in 2007, exposed bareground surfaces were culimulched to a depth of four inches, and seed was hand broadcast onto the soil surface. The planting was immediately cultipacked after seeding to mend the seed to the soil surface, and there was a snowfall of  five inches the following day. The bareground was also seeded with perennial rye at a rate of 4 lbs/acre as a cover crop to stabilize the exposed soil from erosion. The restored sedge meadow supports populations of glade mallow (Napaea dioica) planted from seed collected from populations growing along the Sugar River and along State Highway 14, cream gentian (Gentiana alba) collected from management unit 7, and eight eastern prairie fringed orchids (Platanthera leucophaea) transplanted from the van Altena Preserve, near Milton, WI.

Summary of Ecological Management Goals for Sedge Meadow Communities

  • Restore remnant sedge meadow communities to their presettlement condition.
  • Reintroduce periodic wildfire regimes to sedge meadow.
  • Reduce or eliminate populations of high‐impact invasive species.
  • Catalog species richness across all trophic levels and enhance habitat quality to maximize species richness and diversity.
  • Establish and maintain habitat structural elements to benefit wildlife.