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

Inland Beach

State Rank: S3     Global Rank: G4G5   what are these ranks?


Detailed Community Description from Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin

General natural community overview

Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for Inland Beach in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database.

Inland beach occurs on the margins of seepage lakes where specialized vegetation adapted to fluctuating water levels occurs. Water levels may vary as much as six feet or more over a few years or decades, favoring annuals, short-lived perennials, and other species adapted to both high and low water.

The vegetation of the inland beach community typically grows in three distinct vegetative zones-the lower inundated portion, the damp-to-saturated middle beach, and the higher, drier upper beach. While species composition varies across the state, suites of species (families, growth forms) represented in each zone are relatively consistent.

Important plant species in the inundated lower beach zone include a number of graminoid emergents such as spike-rushes (Eleocharis spp.), bulrushes (Scirpus spp. and Schoenoplectus spp.), and horsetails (Equisetum spp.).

The damp middle beach zone can support diverse assemblages of grasses, sedges, and forbs, often of short stature. Commonly documented species include graminoids such as Arctic rush (Juncus arcticus), narrow-panicle rush (Juncus brevicaudatus), Smith's bulrush (Schoenoplectus smithii), autumn sedge (Fimbristylis autumnalis), and tickle grass (Agrostis spp.). It is this zone that often has the specialists and rarities (e.g., Fassett's locoweed (Oxytropis campestris), alpine milk-vetch (Astragalus alpinus), long-beaked bald-rush (Rhynchospora scirpoides), rugulose grape fern (Sceptridium rugulosum), and many-headed sedge (Carex sychnocephala)). Associated forbs are silverweed (Potentilla anserina), Kalm's lobelia (Lobelia kalmii), false foxgloves (Agalinis spp.), northern St. John's-wort (Hypericum boreale), blue vervain (Verbena hastata), and water-horehounds (Lycopus spp).

The high and dry upper beach zone supports denser, taller vegetation such as Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), panicled aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum), flat-topped aster (Doellingeria umbellata), black bulrush (Scirpus atrovirens), and wool-grass (Scirpus cyperinus). Shrubs and seedling trees, such as white meadowsweet (Spiraea alba), speckled alder (Alnus incana), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), balsam fir (Abies balsamea), red maple (Acer rubrum), and pines (Pinus spp.) often become established on the upper beach for periods of several years, but during periods of extremely high water this zone is flooded out, succession is set back, and some of the more specialized beach plants are able to spread and thrive.

Defining Characteristics and Similar Communities

Inland beaches are most similar to coastal plain marshes but lack species disjunct from the Atlantic Coastal Plain such as sedge-relatives like Fuirena, Lipocarpha, and Scleria, graminoids such as brown-fruit rush (Juncus pelocarpus ), and forbs such as milkworts (Polygala cruciata and P. sanguinea), meadow-beauty (Rhexia virginica), tooth-cup (Rotala ramosior), and yellow-eyed grass (Xyris torta). They have some similarities with other wetland communities like sedge meadows and moist sandy meadows, but these communities lack the strong vegetation zonation typical of inland beaches.

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 Inland Beach 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.

Hairy-necked Tiger BeetleCicindela hirticollis hirticollis3
Sandy Stream Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera macra3

Common NighthawkChordeiles minor3

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Seaside GrasshopperTrimerotropis maritima3
Blue-legged GrasshopperMelanoplus flavidus2
Delicate Meadow KatydidOrchelimum delicatum2
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa1

Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus1

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
Astragalus alpinus Alpine Milkvetch 3
Botrychium pallidum Pale Moonwort 3
Carex lenticularis Shore Sedge 2
Carex michauxiana Michaux's Sedge 2
Carex straminea Straw Sedge 2
Carex sychnocephala Many-headed Sedge 3
Crotalaria sagittalis Arrow-headed Rattle-box 2
Cuscuta coryli Hazel Dodder 3
Cuscuta polygonorum Knotweed Dodder 2
Eleocharis engelmannii Engelmann's Spike-rush 2
Eleocharis quinqueflora Few-flowered Spike-rush 2
Eleocharis wolfii Wolf Spike-rush 3
Fuirena pumila Dwarf Umbrella Sedge 3
Huperzia selago Fir Clubmoss 3
Oxytropis campestris var. chartacea Fassett's Locoweed 3
Rhexia virginica Virginia Meadow-beauty 3
Sceptridium rugulosum Rugulose Grape-fern 3
Schoenoplectus hallii Hall's Bulrush 3
Schoenoplectus torreyi Torrey's Bulrush 2
Strophostyles leiosperma Small-flowered Woolly Bean 1
Symphyotrichum robynsianum Robyns' Aster 3
Tephroseris palustris Marsh Ragwort 3
Utricularia resupinata Northeastern Bladderwort 3


The following Ecological Landscapes have the best opportunities to manage for Inland Beach, based on the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Ecological LandscapeOpportunity
Northwest SandsMajor
Central Sand HillsImportant
Northern HighlandImportant
North Central ForestPresent
Northeast SandsPresent

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 Inland Beach in Ecological Landscapes with opportunities for protection, restoration, and/or management. For more information, see the Wildlife Action Plan.

Central Sand Hills

The majority of lakes in this Ecological Landscape have been heavily developed. East Lake (Portage County), Scout Lake (Columbia County), as well as Chain Lake and Silver Lake (both Waushara County) contain good examples of inland beach. A number of rare plant species have been documented in the beach communities in this Ecological Landscape.

North Central Forest

This Ecological Landscape is also very popular for recreational and retirement lakeshore home development. Kentuck Lake Swale (Vilas County) and Mountain Lake (Bayfield County) on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest hold examples of this community type.

Northeast Sands

A few additional occurrences of this community are known from lakeshores in the Northeast Sands Ecological Landscape, but additional information is needed to assess them adequately.

Northern Highland

Lake development ranges from moderate to very intensive on most lakes in this Ecological Landscape that can be reached by road. A number of lakes enjoy advocacy from lake association members and leaders. This community occurs at a number of lakes within the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, including Salsich Lake, Bittersweet Lakes State Natural Area, and on the east side of Trout Lake (all Vilas County).

Northwest Sands

Lakes in the Northwest Sands continue to face increasingly heavy development pressure for year-round and seasonal homes, especially from the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Rush Lake (Douglas County), Richart Lake (Burnett County), Cloverleaf Lake (Washburn County), Deer Print Lake (Douglas County), and Goose Lake Beach (Douglas County) harbor good examples of this type. Lake associations led by lake protection advocates may be able to play a key role in limiting incompatible land uses.


Inland Beach Photos

Inland Beach Photo

Aerial view of Big Bay Madeline Island, looking inland from Lake Superior shows pine-clad barrier beach wetland and inland beach ridge.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Inland Beach Photo

Aerial view of Big Bay Madeline Island, 1996, looking perpendicular to older inland beach ridges.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Inland Beach Photo

Water levels of this sand-bottomed, softwater seepage lake fluctuate dramatically, even over just a few years. When water levels are low, a broad beach of sand and gravel is exposed.

Photo by Darcy Kind.

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