Sedge Meadow-- What's up with all the lumps & bumps?Do you see all those lumps & bumps. It isn’t mounds of soil with plants on top. It is just PLANTS! This open wetland community is dominated by Hummock Sedge (Carex stricta). Sedge Meadows are found throughout Wisconsin in areas where soil is saturated with water. These meadows can be near streams or lakeshores or in any location where the water table is near the surface of the soil, and often forms a transition zone between open water and upland habitat.The Hummock Sedge has a large matted root system that creates the tussocks or as we say in Wisconsin—hummocks. This species is responsible for the community’s lumpy appearance. If you could look down on the sedge meadow from an airplane you would think the hummocks are evenly spaced. They are! This spacing is created by the growing habit of the sedge plant. Sedges grow only in full sunlight, but the plant has a drooping nature that creates much shade. Where the shade ends and the sunlight begins, another sedge plant will grow. This shaded environment, however, provides a place for shade loving plants to grow—creating a diverse biological community.
Sedges have edges!Look at the Sedge Meadow. To most people it looks like grass, but if you take a closer look, you will see some differences between grasses and sedges. The most noticeable one is that sedges have edges. Compare a grass stem with a sedge stem; you will notice that the sedge stem is triangular and solid, while the grass stem is cylindrical and hollow.Besides sedges, other vegetation in this meadow includes Bulrush (Scirpus spp.) and Rush (Juncus spp.). There are a few flowering plants, but most do not bloom until mid-summer when the water logged soils have finally warmed up.
Wildlife in a Sedge MeadowA sedge meadow provides habitat for a variety of wildlife---insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Some organisms live here and should be quite noticeable: mosquitoes, flies, ants, spiders, red winged blackbirds, and meadow voles. Other wildlife are just passing through or feeding on the tender shoots of the meadow plants. These organisms may include the Canada Goose, Cottontail rabbit, and the White tailed Deer. Most of the time you may not actually see the wildlife, but you can find evidence such as animal tracks, nibbled plants, or bedding areas.
FIRE: BRING IT ON!This ecosystem will probably not be here in 20 years. Not because it isn’t protected, but because it is PROTECTED--PROTECTED FROM FIRE.Without fire, shrub species such as Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) and Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) become established. After the shrubs, trees such as White Birch (Betula papyrifera) and White Ash (Fraxinus Americana) move in. Since sedges are not shade tolerant—they can’t live here. A Sedge Meadow needs fire to maintain its plant community, and because this meadow is in the city limits, burning either naturally or by a ”prescribed burn” will never be allowed.
Historical Uses of a Sedge Meadow
Historic Uses of a Sedge MeadowSedge meadows once covered 459,000 hectares in Wisconsin. There is only about 3% or 12,000 hectares left. This is because these areas were drained and used for urban development or agricultural use such as grazing or “muck” farming. However, sedge is not a very nutritious feed for animals, and the use of these meadows for farming only provides a few years of growing. The soil fertility does not last long.Another historic use of the sedge meadow is for “marsh hay”. In the past, farmers used marsh hay as a bedding for livestock, but it also had an important use by city inhabitants. Before people had refrigerators, they had “ice boxes”. The ice was cut from rivers or lakes in the winter and kept frozen through spring, summer and fall by covering the ice with a thick layer of marsh hay.
What’s a Shrub-Carr?No, it is not a car with bushes growing on it; it’s a carr—from a Scandinavian word for understory. Shrub Carr is a Native Wisconsin Wetland Community.• Considered a wetland because soils are waterlogged and seasonally flooded•Dominant vegetative type is tall deciduous shrubs like Red Osier Dogwood (Cornussericea), Willow (Salix spp.), and Nannyberry (Viburnumlentago)•Grassy understory. There is rich diversity if relatively undisturbed ecosystem.•High value habitat for many birds such as American Goldfinch (Carduelistristis) and American Woodcock (Scolopax minor), and is particularly important winter habitat for cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagusfloridanus) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileusvirginianus).HistoryAt the turn of the century there was little Shrub-Carr habitat in Wisconsin. Wetlands were being drained and marsh hay was regularly mowed for animal bedding and ice storage. Now, however, this community type is expanding its range is because these activities have decreased dramatically.Another important reason this community is expanding is that wildfire is controlled. This habitat is an intermediate stage between marsh or sedge meadow and upland forest. Without fire, shrub species can become established. In some parts of Wisconsin, Shrub-Carr covers extensive areas and is sometimes targeted for elimination.How to ManageWater flow needs to be maintained and invasive plants need to be controlled.Help! The Aliens are Invading!Take a look at this plant community. Does it look like it is all one species? Invasive plants are a problem here, especially Glossy Buckthorn (Rhamnus) frangula) and Common Buckthorn (Rhamnuscathartica). Both of these out-compete native species for space and nutrients. If that isn’t bad enough, another non-native, Reed Canary Grass (Phalarisarundinacea), invades the understory. When the buckthorn increases the canopy cover, the understory diversity greatly decreases.MOLS is trying to correct this problem by control of these invasive plants through mechanical, chemical and biological means. You can make a difference by volunteering your time to help with this effort. Check the MOLS Webpage on the School District Website. You will find names, phone numbers, and planned activities.