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For information on Wisconsin's natural communities, contact:
Ryan O'Connor
Natural Heritage Inventory Ecologist

Wet Prairie

State Rank: SU     Global Rank: G3   what are these ranks?


Detailed Community Description from Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin

General natural community overview

Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for Wet Prairie in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database.

Wet prairie is a rather variable tall grassland community that shares characteristics of wet-mesic prairie, southern sedge meadow, calcareous fen and even emergent marsh communities. The wet prairies' more wetland-like character can mean that relatively few upland prairie species are present. In wet prairie the dominant graminoids may include Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), and marsh wild-timothy (Muhlenbergia glomerata), plus several sedge species including Bicknell's sedge (Carex bicknellii), water sedge (Carex aquatilis), and woolly sedge (Carex pellita). Many of the herbs are shared with the wet-mesic prairies, but the following species are often prevalent: New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), swamp thistle (Cirsium muticum), northern bedstraw (Galium boreale), yellow star-grass (Hypoxis hirsuta), cowbane (Oxypolis rigidior), tall meadow-rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum), golden Alexander's (Zizia aurea), and mountain-mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).

Defining Characteristics and Similar Communities

Wet prairie is characterized by its grass and forb dominance on wet mineral soils. They often occur as a fringe along the upland edge of sedge meadows or emergent marshes or on the lower edge of wet-mesic prairies. They can be distinguished from wet-mesic prairies by their higher water table (usually with a water table within 12 inches of the surveys, sometimes with standing water present) and higher prevalence of forbs typically associated with wetter habitats such as Joe-Pye-weed (Eutrochium maculatum), boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), common water hemlock (Cicuta maculata), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and water smartweed (Persicaria amphibia). Wet prairie also shares similarities with southern sedge meadow, sedge meadows tend to occur on organic soils while wet prairies tend to occur on mineral soils. Wet prairies also have a higher prevalence of grasses such as prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), and occasionally big bluestem or Indian grass, while southern sedge meadows have a higher prevalence of sedges. Similarly, calcareous fens (sometimes called prairie fens due to their prairie flora) are also usually located on organic soils (peat and/or marl) rather than mineral soils. Wet prairies have some species in common with emergent marshes, but lack the dominance of cattails and bulrushes that typify marshes, although aggressive non-native cattails (e.g., Typha angustifolia, T. X glauca) may invade and take over wet prairies, blurring this distinction.

Wet prairies sometimes occur in wetland complexes with shrub-carr, and can become invaded by shrubs if the hydrology and fire regime is disrupted. The dividing line between shrub-carr and prairie is generally the degree of shrub cover, with shrub-carr having greater than 50% cover but the length of time shrubs have been dominant and the presence of prairie indicators can help distinguish a shrub-invaded but restorable wet prairies from shrub-carrs with a long presence on the landscape.

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 Wet Prairie 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.

Blanchard's Cricket FrogAcris blanchardi3
Pickerel FrogLithobates palustris3

Ants, wasps, and beesScore
American Bumble BeeBombus pensylvanicus1
Confusing Bumble BeeBombus perplexus1
Rusty-patched Bumble BeeBombus affinis1
Silphium Terminal Gall WaspAntistrophus silphii1
Yellow Bumble BeeBombus fervidus1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Six-whorl VertigoVertigo morsei2
Boreal TopZoogenetes harpa1
Transparent Vitrine SnailVitrina angelicae1

A Leaf BeetleCryptocephalus venustus3
A Leaf BeetleBassareus mammifer2
A Leaf BeetleAltica litigata2
A Straight-snouted WeevilEutrichapion huron2
A Colaspis Leaf BeetleColaspis suggona1
A Pear-shaped WeevilFallapion bischoffi1
A Pear-shaped WeevilCoelocephalapion decoloratum1

BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus2
American WoodcockScolopax minor2
Bell's VireoVireo bellii2
Black-necked StiltHimantopus mexicanus2
Brewer's BlackbirdEuphagus cyanocephalus2
Greater Prairie-ChickenTympanuchus cupido2
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii2
Le Conte's SparrowAmmodramus leconteii2
Long-eared OwlAsio otus2
Purple MartinProgne subis2
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus2
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda2
Common NighthawkChordeiles minor1
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna1
Sharp-tailed GrouseTympanuchus phasianellus1
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta1
Yellow-breasted ChatIcteria virens1

Butterflies and mothsScore
A Noctuid MothBagisara gulnare2
Liatris Borer MothPapaipema beeriana2
Silphium Borer MothPapaipema silphii2
Swamp MetalmarkCalephelis muticum2
Gray CopperLycaena dione1
Poweshiek SkipperlingOarisma poweshiek1

Prairie CrayfishProcambarus gracilis2

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Bog ConeheadNeoconocephalus lyristes2
Delicate Meadow KatydidOrchelimum delicatum2
Grizzly Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus punctulatus1
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A LeafhopperDestria crocea3
A LeafhopperFlexamia prairiana2
A LeafhopperLimotettix elegans2
A LeafhopperLimotettix pseudosphagneticus2
A LeafhopperParaphlepsius nebulosus1
A PlanthopperMyndus ovatus1
Piglet BugAphelonema simplex1
Red-tailed Prairie LeafhopperAflexia rubranura1
Yellow Loosestrife LeafhopperErythroneura carbonata1

Big Brown BatEptesicus fuscus3
Franklin's Ground SquirrelPoliocitellus franklinii1
Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus1
Tricolored BatPerimyotis subflavus1

Blanding's TurtleEmydoidea blandingii3
Butler's GartersnakeThamnophis butleri3
Eastern MassasaugaSistrurus catenatus3
Plains GartersnakeThamnophis radix3
QueensnakeRegina septemvittata3
Wood TurtleGlyptemys insculpta2
Eastern RibbonsnakeThamnophis sauritus1
Western RibbonsnakeThamnophis proximus1

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
Agrimonia parviflora Swamp Agrimony 2
Arnoglossum plantagineum Prairie Indian-plantain 3
Cypripedium candidum White Lady's-slipper 3
Eleocharis compressa var. compressa Flat-stemmed Spike-rush 2
Hypericum mutilum Slender St. John's-wort 3
Hypericum sphaerocarpum Round-fruited St. John's Wort 2
Muhlenbergia richardsonis Mat Muhly 3
Platanthera flava var. herbiola Pale Green Orchid 1


The following Ecological Landscapes have the best opportunities to manage for Wet Prairie, 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 Wet Prairie in Ecological Landscapes with opportunities for protection, restoration, and/or management. For more information, see the Wildlife Action Plan.

Central Sand Hills

Good occurrences have been documented at Fountain Creek Prairie State Natural Area (within Grand River Marsh State Wildlife Area, Green Lake County) and Upper Chaffee Creek Meadow State Fishery Area (Marquette County).

Southeast Glacial Plains

Most prairie sites are small and somewhat isolated. Invasives such as reed canary grass, purple loosestrife, and giant reed are significant management problems in some areas. Good opportunities to manage and restore this type occur at some of the larger wet grassland sites in this Ecological Landscape, such as Scuppernong Prairie in the South Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Small remnants also occur embedded within other large grassland management opportunities in this Ecological Landscape, such as Bong State Recreation Area (Kenosha County), Waterloo Prairie State Natural Area (Jefferson and Dodge Counties), and Cherokee Marsh State Natural Area (Dane County).

Southern Lake Michigan Coastal

Increasing population levels due to the proximity of a major metropolitan area have resulted in rapidly expanding urban development. Chiwaukee Prairie is a complex dominated by wet-mesic prairie that also includes wet prairie, mesic prairie, calcareous fen, southern sedge meadow, and oak openings. Coordinated management of Chiwaukee Prairie with Illinois Beach State Park should be explored. Existing prairie remnants should be preserved. Management of stormwater runoff is a major concern in this area, as is maintenance of site hydrology, and continued residential expansion.

Western Coulee and Ridges

Only small, relatively isolated, degraded remnants are known from this Ecological Landscape. Conversion of wet meadow and prairie to marsh has occurred in some constructed impoundments. Reed canary grass is a serious wetland problem in much of this Ecological Landscape. Stands of cordgrass occur in some of the large open wetlands along the Mississippi River.


Wet Prairie Photos

Wet Prairie Photo

Wet prairie, Spartina pectinata, Carex stricta, Salix discolor, Cornus amomum, Lysimachia quadriflora, Solidago rigida, S. altissima, Juncus dudleyi, Helianthus grosseserratus, Desmodium canadense.

Photo by Andy Clark.

Wet Prairie Photo

Wet prairie with characteristic prairie cord grass (Spartina pectinata) and sedges at Princeton Prairie SNA.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor.

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