Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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Natural Communities:
Wetland Herbaceous Communities


Click on community name for photo gallery.

Boreal rich fen
Neutral to alkaline cold open peatlands of northern Wisconsin through which carbonate-rich groundwater percolates. Sphagnum mosses are absent or of relatively minor importance, as calciphilic species (especially the “brown” mosses) predominate. Dominant/characteristic plants include woolly sedge (Carex lasiocarpa), twig rush (Cladium mariscoides), beaked bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta), rushes (Juncus spp.), and Hudson Bay cotton-grass (Scirpus hudsonianus). Shrubby phases also occur, with bog birch (Betula pumila), sage willow (Salix candida), and speckled alder (Alnus incana) present in significant amounts.

Calcareous fen
An open wetland found in southern Wisconsin, often underlain by a calcareous substrate, through which carbonate-rich groundwater percolates. The flora is typically diverse, with many calciphiles. Common species are several sedges (Carex sterilis and C. lanuginosa), marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa), shrubby St. John's-wort (Hypericum kalmianum), Ohio goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis), grass-of-parnassus (Parnassia glauca), twig-rush (Cladium mariscoides), brook lobelia (Lobelia kalmii), boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), swamp thistle (Cirsium muticum), and asters (Aster spp.). Some fens have significant prairie or sedge meadow components, and intergrade with those communities.

Central poor fen


Coastal plain marsh
Sandy to peaty-mucky lakeshores, pondshores, depressions, and ditches in and around the bed of extinct glacial Lake Wisconsin may harbor assemblages of wetland species including some which are significantly disjunct from their main ranges on the Atlantic Coastal Plain. There is often a well-developed concentric zonation of vegetation. Frequent members of this community are sedges in the genera Cyperus, Eleocharis, Fimbristylis, Hemicarpha, Rhynchospora and Scirpus; rushes (Juncus spp.); milkworts (Polygala cruciata and P. sanguinea), toothcup (Rotala ramosior), meadow-beauty (Rhexia virginica), grass-leaved goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia), hardhack (Spiraea tomentosa), lance-leaved violet (Viola lanceolata), and yellow-eyed grass (Xyris torta).

Emergent aquatic
These open, marsh, lake, riverine and estuarine communities with permanent standing water are dominated by robust emergent macrophytes, in pure stands of single species or in various mixtures. Dominants include cat-tails (Typha spp.), bulrushes (particularly Scirpus acutus, S. fluviatilis, and S. validus), bur-reeds (Sparganium spp.), giant reed (Phragmites australis), pickerel-weed (Pontederia cordata), water-plantains (Alisma spp.), arrowheads (Sagittaria spp.), and the larger species of spikerush such as (Eleocharis smallii).

Emergent aquatic - wild rice
This open community is an emergent macrophyte type, with wild rice (Zizania aquatica or Z. palustris) as the dominant species. The substrate usually consists of poorly-consolidated, semi-organic sediments. Water fertility is low to moderate, and a slow current is present. Wild rice beds have great cultural significance to native peoples, and are important wildlife habitats.

Interdunal wetland
Wind-created hollows that intersect the water table within active dune fields along the Great Lakes. These maybe colonized by wetland plants, including habitat specialists that are of high conservation significance. Common members of this wetland community on Lake Superior are twig-rush (Cladium mariscoides), species of rushes (especially Juncus balticus), pipewort (Eriocaulon septangulare), the sedge (Carex viridula), ladies-tress orchids (Spiranthes sp.) and bladderworts (Utricularia cornuta and U. resupinata).

Northern poor fen
This acidic, weakly minerotrophic peatland type is similar to the Open Bog, but can be differentiated by higher Ph, nutrient availability, and floristics. Sphagnum (Sphagnum spp.) mosses are common but don’t typically occur in deep layers with pronounced hummocks. Floristic diversity is higher than in the Open Bog and may include white beak-rush(Rhynchospora alba), pitcher-plant (Sarracenia purpurea), sundews (Drosera spp.), pod grass (Scheuchzeria palustris), and the pink-flowered orchids (Calopogon tuberosus, Pogonia ophioglossoides and Arethusa bulbosa). Common sedges are (Carex oligosperma, C. limosa, C. lasiocarpa, C. chordorrhiza), and cotton-grasses (Eriophorum spp.).

Northern sedge meadow
This open wetland community is dominated by sedges and grasses. There are several common subtypes: Tussock meadows, dominated by tussock sedge (Carex stricta) and Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis); Broad-leaved sedge meadows, dominated by the robust sedges (Carex lacustris and/or C. utriculata); and Wire-leaved sedge meadows, dominated by such species as woolly sedge (Carex lasiocarpa) and few-seeded sedge (C. oligosperma). Frequent associates include marsh bluegrass (Poa palustris), manna grasses (Glyceria spp.), panicled aster (Aster lanceolatus), joy-pye-weed (Eupatorium maculatum), and the bulrushes (Scirpus atrovirens and S. cyperinus).

Open bog
These non-forested bogs are acidic, low nutrient, northern Wisconsin peatlands dominated by Sphagnum spp. Mosses that occur in deep layers, often with pronounced hummocks and hollows. Also present are a few narrow-leaved sedge species such as (Carex oligosperma and C. pauciflora), cotton-grasses (Eriophorum spp.), and ericaceous shrubs, especially bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia), leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), and small cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus). Plant diversity is very low but includes characteristic and distinctive specialists. Trees are absent or achieve very low cover values as this community is closely related to and intergrades with Muskeg. When this community occurs in southern Wisconsin, it is often referred to as a Bog Relict.

Sand meadow
A seasonally dry, seasonally wet to inundated, open, grass-, sedge-, moss-, and forb-dominated community that develops on level sandy-peaty soils of old glacial lake beds and outwash plains. The root zone remains moist, owing to a perched water table caused by impermeable silts or clay beneath the surface sands. The community usually occurs as small patches in gaps, or on the margins of, more extensive jack pine and/or Hill’s oak-dominated communities, or along game trails through Central Sedge Poor Fens. In pre-settlement times, this community might have been maintained by periodic catastrophic fires, or perhaps by the trails and wallows associated with the pre-settlement megafauna (e.g. elk, bison). Most extant EOs occur where anthropogenic disturbances such as trail, road, and railroad maintenance activities, or maintenance of mossing “platforms”, maintain small seral openings with vegetation scraped down to bare soil. The pioneering flora is composed almost entirely of native species, including a significant subset that are rare, uncommon, or otherwise noteworthy.

Shore fen
This open peatland community occurs primarily along Great Lakes shorelines, especially near the mouths of estuarine streams. Along Lake Superior most stands are separated from the lake waters by a sand spit. The floating sedge mat is composed mostly of woolly sedge (Carex lasiocarpa); co-dominants are sweet gale (Myrica gale) and bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata). The following herbs are common in this diverse, circumneutral, nutrient-rich community: twigrush (Cladium mariscoides), marsh horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile), a spikerush (Eleocharis elliptica), intermediate bladderwort (Utricularia intermedia), marsh bellflower (Campanula aparinoides), narrow-leaved willow-herb (Epilobium leptophyllum), water-parsnip (Sium suave), and bog willow (Salix pedicellaris). Coastal fens are distinguished from open bogs and poor fens (which may adjoin them in the same wetland complex) by the lack of Sphagnum spp. Mosses, higher Ph, and direct hydrologic connection to the Great Lakes. They are distinguished from rich fens by the absence of indicator species such as linear-leaved sundew (Drosera linearis), grass-of-parnassus (Parnassia glauca), false asphodel (Tofiedia glutinosa) and a spikerush (Eleocharis rostellata).

Southern sedge meadow
Widespread in southern Wisconsin, this open wetland community is most typically dominated by tussock sedge (Carex stricta) and Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis). Common associates are water-horehound (Lycopus uniflorus), panicled aster (Aster simplex), blue flag (Iris virginica), Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), spotted joe-pye-weed (Eupatorium maculatum), broad-leaved cat-tail (Typha latifolia), and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) may be dominant in grazed and/or ditched stands. Ditched stands can succeed quickly to Shrub-Carr.

Submergent aquatic
This herbaceous community of aquatic macrophytes occurs in lakes, ponds, and rivers. Submergent macrophytes often occur in deeper water than emergents, but there is considerable overlap. Dominants include various species of pondweeds (Potamogeton spp.) along with waterweed (Elodea canadensis), slender naiad (Najas flexilis), eel-grass (Vallisneria americana), and species of water-milfoil (Myriophyllum) and bladderworts (Utricularia).

Submergent aquatic - oligotrophic marsh
This herbaceous community of distinctive highly specialized submersed, rosette-forming aquatic macrophytes occurs in clear, deep soft-water lakes in northern Wisconsin. The plants grow at depths ranging from the beach line to several meters. Species in this community include American shore-grass (Littorella americana), pipewort (Eriocaulon septangulare), yellow hedge-hyssop (Gratiola aurea), aquatic lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna), a milfoil (Myriophyllum tenellum), brown-fruit rush (Juncus pelocarpus), and quillworts (Isoetes spp.).

Wet prairie
This is a rather heterogeneous tall grassland community that shares characteristics of prairies, Southern Sedge Meadow, Calcareous Fen and even Emergent Aquatic communities. The Wet Prairie’s more wetland- like character can mean that sometimes very few true prairie species are present. Many of the stands assigned to this type by Curtis are currently classified as Wet-Mesic Prairies. The dominant graminoids are Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), and prairie muhly (Muhlenbergia glomerata), plus several sedge (Carex) species including lake sedge (C. lacustris), water sedge (C. aquatilis), and woolly sedge (C. lanuginosa). Many of the herb species are shared with Wet-Mesic Prairies, but the following species are often prevalent: New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), swamp thistle (Cirsium muticum), northern bedstraw (Galium boreale), yellow stargrass (Hypoxis hirsuta), cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior), tall meadow-rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum), golden alexander (Zizea aurea), and mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).

Wet-mesic prairie
This herbaceous grassland community is dominated by tall grasses including big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), and Canada wild-rye (Elymus canadensis). The forb component is diverse and includes azure aster (Aster oolentangiensis), shooting-star (Dodecatheon meadia), sawtooth sunflower (Helianthus grosseseratus), prairie blazing-star (Liatris pycnostachya), prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa), prairie coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), prairie docks (Silphium integrifolium and S. terebinthinaceum), late and stiff goldenrods (Solidago gigantea and S. rigida), and culver's-root (Veronicastrum virginicum).


Offsite resources:
Virginia Kline's collection of the Vegetation of Wisconsin
Michigan Natural Features Inventory Community descriptions

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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