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Ryan O'Connor
Natural Heritage Inventory Ecologist

Northern Sedge Meadow

State Rank: S3     Global Rank: G4   what are these ranks?


Detailed Community Description from Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin

General natural community overview

Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for Northern Sedge Meadow in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database.

This open wetland community is dominated by sedges and grasses and occurs primarily in northern Wisconsin. There are several common, fairly distinctive, subtypes, including tussock meadow, dominated by tussock sedge (Carex stricta) and Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), broad-leaved sedge meadow, dominated by the robust lake and common yellow lake sedges (Carex lacustris and/or C. utriculata), and wire-leaved sedge meadow, dominated by woolly sedge (Carex lasiocarpa) and/or few-seeded sedge (Carex oligosperma). Frequent associates include northern blue flag (Iris versicolor), marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), marsh bellflower (Campanula aparinoides), manna grasses (Glyceria spp.), panicled aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum), and wool-grass (Scirpus cyperinus). Sphagnum mosses are either absent or they occur in scattered, discontinuous patches. Sedge meadows occur on a variety of landforms and in several ecological settings that include depressions in outwash or ground moraine landforms in which there is groundwater movement and internal drainage, on the shores of some drainage lakes, and on the margins of streams and large rivers.

Defining Characteristics and Similar Communities

Northern sedge meadows are similar to southern sedge meadows, but generally occur north of the climatic tension zone. Species such as leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), marsh cinquefoil (Comarum palustre), northern blue flag (/I>Iris versicolor), and bog willow (Salix pedicellaris) tend to be more prevalent than species more typical of southern sedge meadows, such as Joe-Pye-weed (Eutrochium maculatum), jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis), giant goldenrod (Solidago gigantea), glossy-leaved aster (Symphyotrichum firmum), and tall meadowrue (Thalictrum dasycarpum), though virtually all of these species range statewide. In addition, soils of northern sedge meadows range from neutral to strongly acidic, while those of southern sedge meadows tend to be neutral to mildly alkaline.

Northern sedge meadows can be differentiated from more alkaline northern fens (i.e., poor fen, boreal rich fen, and Great Lakes shore fen) by their lack of calciphiles, relatively few carnivorous plants, and relatively few pink-flowered orchids (Calopogon tuberosus, Pogonia ophioglossoides and Arethusa bulbosa). Northern sedge meadows may be differentiated from central poor fens by their location, as the latter tend to occur almost exclusively in the Central Sand Plains ecological landscape and are usually strongly acidic with a boggy, often continuous Sphagnum moss layer beneath lake and common yellow lake sedges (Carex lacustris and C. utriculata). In contrast, northern sedge meadows tend to occur in northern to east-central Wisconsin and usually have Sphagnum moss discontinuous or absent. Northern sedge meadows often intergrade with or are bordered by alder thicket but have less than 50% cover of tall shrubs.

Rare animals

Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

The following Species of Greatest Conservation Need are listed according to their level of association with the Northern Sedge Meadow natural community type, based on the findings in Wisconsin's 2015 Wildlife Action Plan.

Scores: 3 = high association, 2 = moderate association, and 1 = low association. See the key to association scores for complete definitions.

Pickerel FrogLithobates palustris3
Four-toed SalamanderHemidactylium scutatum2
Mink FrogLithobates septentrionalis2

Ants, wasps, and beesScore
Confusing Bumble BeeBombus perplexus1
Frigid Bumble BeeBombus frigidus1
Indiscriminate Cuckoo Bumble BeeBombus insularis1
Yellowbanded Bumble BeeBombus terricola1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Deep-throated VertigoVertigo nylanderi2
Dentate SupercoilParavitrea multidentata2
Hubricht's VertigoVertigo hubrichti2
Ribbed StriateStriatura exigua2
Six-whorl VertigoVertigo morsei2
Transparent Vitrine SnailVitrina angelicae2

A Predaceous Diving BeetleAgabus immaturus2
A Straight-snouted WeevilEutrichapion huron2
A Water Scavenger BeetleAgabetes acuductus1

American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus3
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
Le Conte's SparrowAmmodramus leconteii3
Nelson's SparrowAmmodramus nelsoni3
Wilson's PhalaropePhalaropus tricolor3
Yellow RailCoturnicops noveboracensis3
American Black DuckAnas rubripes2
Black TernChlidonias niger2
Common NighthawkChordeiles minor2
Greater Prairie-ChickenTympanuchus cupido2
Sharp-tailed GrouseTympanuchus phasianellus2
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus2
Whooping CraneGrus americana2
American WoodcockScolopax minor1
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii1
King RailRallus elegans1
Long-eared OwlAsio otus1

Butterflies and mothsScore
Arctic FritillaryBoloria chariclea2
Gray CopperLycaena dione1

Dragonflies and damselfliesScore
Hine's EmeraldSomatochlora hineana2
Sphagnum SpriteNehalennia gracilis2
Zigzag DarnerAeshna sitchensis2
Forcipate EmeraldSomatochlora forcipata1
Subarctic DarnerAeshna subarctica1

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna2
Crackling Forest GrasshopperTrimerotropis verruculata1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A LeafhopperLimotettix elegans1
A LeafhopperLimotettix pseudosphagneticus1

Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus3
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis2
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans2
Water ShrewSorex palustris1
Woodland Jumping MouseNapaeozapus insignis1

Butler's GartersnakeThamnophis butleri3
Blanding's TurtleEmydoidea blandingii2
Wood TurtleGlyptemys insculpta2
Plains GartersnakeThamnophis radix1
Prairie SkinkPlestiodon septentrionalis1

Please see Section 2. Approach and Methods of the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Rare plants

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

Scores: 3 = "significantly associated," 2 = "moderately associated," and 1 = "minimally associated."
Scientific Name Common Name Score
Bartonia paniculata Twining Screwstem 2
Caltha natans Floating Marsh Marigold 2
Canadanthus modestus Northwestern Sticky Aster 2
Carex nigra Smooth Black Sedge 3
Eleocharis flavescens var. olivacea Capitate Spike-rush 2
Eleocharis mamillata Mamillate Spike-rush 3
Eleocharis nitida Neat Spike-rush 3
Eleocharis robbinsii Robbins' Spike-rush 2
Epilobium strictum Downy Willow-herb 3
Equisetum palustre Marsh Horsetail 3
Galium palustre Marsh Bedstraw 3
Juncus vaseyi Vasey's Rush 3
Leucophysalis grandiflora Large-flowered Ground-cherry 1
Parnassia palustris Marsh Grass-of-Parnassus 2
Petasites sagittatus Sweet Colt's-foot 2
Platanthera flava var. herbiola Pale Green Orchid 2
Ranunculus cymbalaria Seaside Crowfoot 2
Ranunculus gmelinii Small Yellow Water Crowfoot 3
Rotala ramosior Toothcup 3
Schoenoplectus torreyi Torrey's Bulrush 2
Scirpus georgianus Georgia Bulrush 2
Sparganium glomeratum Clustered Bur-reed 2
Spiranthes lucida Shining Lady's-tresses 3
Tephroseris palustris Marsh Ragwort 2
Viburnum cassinoides Northern Wild-raisin 1


The following Ecological Landscapes have the best opportunities to manage for Northern Sedge Meadow, based on the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Major (3 on map)
A major opportunity for sustaining the natural community in the Ecological Landscape exists, either because many significant occurrences of the natural community have been recorded in the landscape or major restoration activities are likely to be successful maintaining the community's composition, structure, and ecological function over a longer period of time.

Important (2 on map)
Although the natural community does not occur extensively or commonly in the Ecological Landscape, one to several occurrences do occur and are important in sustaining the community in the state. In some cases, important opportunities may exist because the natural community may be restricted to just one or a few Ecological Landscapes within the state and there may be a lack of opportunities elsewhere.

Present (1 on map)
The natural community occurs in the Ecological Landscape, but better management opportunities appear to exist in other parts of the state.


Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

What are conservation actions?

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for natural communities


The following are additional considerations for Northern Sedge Meadow in Ecological Landscapes with opportunities for protection, restoration, and/or management. For more information, see the Wildlife Action Plan.

Central Lake Michigan Coastal

This Ecological Landscape is heavily developed and contains very little public land. Northern sedge meadow occurs on the east side of the Wolf River south of Shawano at Navarino State Wildlife Area (Shawano County), and Point Beach State Forest (Manitowoc County).

Central Sand Hills

Good examples of this sedge meadow community exist at Germania Marsh State Wildlife Area (Marquette County) and on several private tracts.

Central Sand Plains

Large blocks of open wetland and upland habitat should be maintained where possible; this Ecological Landscape has the potential to accommodate the design of very large management complexes of sedge meadow in conjunction with other open peatlands such as open bogs, poor fens, and muskeg. Hydrologic alterations have been pervasive in this Ecological Landscape and long-term impacts to all wetlands need to be better understood. The commercial harvest of sphagnum moss has occurred in most of the larger and many of the smaller wetland basins. The community level impacts are poorly understood, but this activity has created what might be termed "surrogate sedge meadows", following removal of the living sphagnum. The timing of moss harvest can conflict with the nesting season of wetland birds, including Species of Greatest Conservation Need such as American bittern and northern harrier. Large, though somewhat altered examples can be found on a number of public and private ownerships in this Ecological Landscape. Examples include Wood County State Wildlife Area, Sandhill State Wildlife Area (Wood County), and Meadow Valley Wildlife Area (Juneau County).

Forest Transition

Serious problems exist from invasives such as reed canary grass and purple loosestrife in parts of this Ecological Landscape. In this Ecological Landscape, there is the potential to manage very large complexes of sedge meadow in conjunction with surrogate prairie grasslands. Examples occur at Mead State Wildlife Area (Marathon County) and Myklebust Lake State Natural Area (Waupaca County).

North Central Forest

Large open wetlands are not common in this Ecological Landscape, but there are many small to medium sized sedge meadows in basins, along streams, and on lakeshores. Large blocks of habitat should be maintained where possible and managed in conjunction with other wetland types. Good examples occur within the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, and also on many of the county forests in this Ecological Landscape.

Northeast Sands

Drainage for agriculture was a problem locally in the past. Good occurrences are still present on portions of the Menominee Reservation.

Northern Highland

In this Ecological Landscape, sedge meadow habitats are associated with the shorelines of drainage lakes, the margins of rivers, or the edges of spring ponds. Good examples occur on the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, in Vilas, Iron, and Oneida Counties.

Northern Lake Michigan Coastal

Drainage for agriculture or residential development is still a problem in some areas. Serious problems exist in meadows on the west shore of Green Bay due to invasives such as giant reed, reed canary grass, and purple loosestrife. Significant occurrences are present at Kangaroo Lake and the Mink River on the Door Peninsula, and at locations along the west shore of Green Bay such as Peshtigo Harbor State Wildlife Area in Marinette County

Northwest Lowlands

Management should occur within the context of large wetlands complexes that include other peatlands communities, shrub swamps, stream corridors, and lake shores. Beaver impacts should be determined and populations should be maintained at appropriate levels to ensure that sedge meadows and other wetlands are not adversely impacted at a broad scale. Invasives are not a large problem at present, but should be monitored. Occurrences of northern sedge meadow are present along some of the streams in this Ecological Landscape.

Northwest Sands

Impoundment construction has converted sedge meadow habitat to open marsh in some areas. Excessive conversion of meadows should be avoided in order to maintain regional diversity for species and communities. Locally, sedimentation from agriculture can be a problem. Some problems exist from invasives such as reed canary grass and purple loosestrife. Outstanding examples occur at Fish Lake State Wildlife Area and Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area, both in Burnett County.

Southeast Glacial Plains

The type is uncommon in this Ecological Landscape, but several significant occurrences of large size and unusual species composition exist in the northernmost portions. Agricultural and residential developments are highly significant in this landscape. Ditching, agricultural runoff, and invasive plants are all problems here. The best occurrences are currently privately-owned.

Superior Coastal Plain

Past land use practices (failed attempts at agriculture) have altered hydrology in the poorly drained red clay soils and created meadows with unusual composition. Prescribed fire could be an important management tool here. Good examples of northern sedge meadow occur at the Pokegama-Carnegie Wetlands (Douglas County), at the mouth of the Sand River (Bayfield County), and in some of the peatland complexes in Ashland County.

Western Coulee and Ridges

This type is restricted to a few locations in the northern portions of the Ecological Landscape. Most sites are privately owned.


Northern Sedge Meadow Photos

Northern Sedge Meadow Photo

Northern Sedge Meadow with Northern Wet Forest in the background, Adams County.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Northern Sedge Meadow Photo

Northern sedge meadow with Carex lasiocarpa, C. rostrata, C. interior. Oneida County.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Northern Sedge Meadow Photo

Northern sedge Meadow, Winchester Winnecone Meadows, Winnebago County.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Northern Sedge Meadow Photo

Though meadows dominated by tussock sedge and Canada bluejoint grass occur mostly south of the Tension Zone, this stand is in northern Iron County.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Note: photos are provided to illustrate various examples of natural community types. A single photograph cannot represent the range of variability inherent in a given community type. Some of these photos explicitly illustrate unusual and distinctive community variants. The community photo galleries are a work in progress that we will expand and improve in the future.

Last revised: Tuesday, August 30, 2022