Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Carex bigelowii
SPECIES: Carex bigelowii
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Matthews, Robin F. 1992. Carex bigelowii. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service,
Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ .
Carex consimilis Holm
Carex rigida Good
Carex concolor Mack
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name of Bigelow sedge is Carex
bigelowii Torr., in the section Acutae of the family Cyperaceae
[1,12,16,20,32]. Two subspecies are recognized: C. b. ssp. bigelowii
and C. b. spp. hyperborea (Drej.) Bocher [17,20].
Bigelow sedge hybridizes with C. lugens and water sedge (C. aquatilis
var. stans) .
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Carex bigelowii
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Bigelow sedge is primarily a circumboreal species, occurring from Alaska
to Greenland. The southern extent of its range reaches the alpine
regions of New England and New York [1,12,17,32]. Populations are also
reported at high elevations in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and
FRES11 Spruce - fir
FRES19 Aspen - birch
FRES23 Fir - spruce
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES37 Mountain meadows
FRES41 Wet grasslands
AK CO CT ID ME MA MT NH NY UT
VT WY AB BC LB MB NB NF NT NS
ON PQ SK YT
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K015 Western spruce - fir forest
K052 Alpine meadows and barrens
K094 Conifer bog
K096 Northeastern spruce - fir forest
K108 Northern hardwoods - spruce forest
SAF COVER TYPES :
5 Balsam fir
12 Black spruce
13 Black spruce - tamarack
18 Paper birch
107 White spruce
201 White spruce
202 White spruce - paper birch
203 Balsam poplar
204 Black spruce
206 Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir
251 White spruce - aspen
252 Paper birch
253 Black spruce - white spruce
254 Black spruce - paper birch
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
Throughout its range, Bigelow sedge generally occurs as scattered
individuals. It may occasionally dominate or codominate in tundra
regions, shrublands, or in sedge meadows. A published classification
listing Bigelow sedge as a major component of plant associations (pas)
is as follows:
AREA CLASSIFICATION AUTHORITY
AK gen. veg. pas Viereck & Dyrness 1980
SPECIES: Carex bigelowii
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
Bigelow sedge usually does not occur in enough abundance to be
considered an important forage plant . Sheep and caribou, however,
are known to graze it, primarily in the spring and early summer .
Palatability of Bigelow sedge is excellent early in the growing season
and fair late in the summer .
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
Wein and Bliss  found the following plant tissue nutrient
concentrations on burned and unburned arctic tussock tundra sites:
Macronutrients (% dry weight) Micronutrients (ppm)
N P K Ca Mg Na Fe Mn
Burned 2.14 0.18 1.32 0.36 0.11 31.3 130.0 863.3
Unburned 1.66 0.13 1.51 0.36 0.15 27.0 217.0 775.7
COVER VALUE :
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
Bigelow sedge has shown good potential for use in revegetation programs,
particularily in northern regions. In the western Canadian arctic,
growth of Bigelow sedge occurred within 2 months on sites damaged by
crude oil spills . It has also been locally successful at naturally
colonizing borrow pits along the Dempster Highway in northwestern Canada
, and is present on sites that are moderately affected by natural
sulfur pollution in the Smoking Hills, Canada . The presence of
Bigelow sedge seed in soil banks allowed for natural revegetation of
bulldozed sites in Alaskan tussock tundra . Bigelow sedge also
appears to be highly resistant to trampling in alpine regions of the
Adirondacks . The extensive, interconnected rhizome system formed
by Bigelow sedge may help to prevent soil erosion.
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Bigelow sedge generally increases in response to grazing. Shoot density
on grazed sites in Iceland was two times higher than on adjacent
ungrazed sites. Growth of the tillers may have been stimulated by
increased nutrient availability, and trampling may have killed apical
meristems, allowing for increased lateral expansion .
Bigelow sedge seeds are buried in soil organic layers. Stockpiling and
reutilizing the organic matter after man-made disturbances may be a
useful method of restoring natural communities in arctic tussock tundra
. Seeding of natural or exotic grasses on disturbed tundra sites
may inhibit the growth of Bigelow sedge from the seed bank .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Carex bigelowii
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Bigelow sedge is a long-lived perennial, exhibiting a more or less
uniform graminoid growth form . The culms are stiff and arise singly
or in small tufts. They are generally 4 to 16 inches (10-41 cm) high.
The stiff, dark-green basal leaves are 8 to 20 to a culm, with the dried
leaves of the previous year persisting. Flower morphology has been
examined in detail [1,12,16,17].
Bigelow sedge is strongly stoloniferous . Rhizomes are mostly
elongate, so the plant is not tussock-forming. Roots are adventitious
and are produced at the nodes at the base of erect shoots . Rooting
depth is generally to mineral soil [19,33].
In the arctic, distinguishing between Bigelow sedge and water sedge (C.
aquatilis var. aquatilis and var. stans) based on morphological
differentiation is very difficult .
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Bigelow sedge reproduces predominantly by vegetative means, forming
extensive clones of interconnected rhizomes . Aboveground portions
of tillers may live up to 4 years, after which the rhizomes continue to
grow and remain active, persisting for 12 years or longer [2,5]. Growth
of the plant results in directional clones; tillers exploit new space by
producing long rhizomes with an indefinte numbers of elongated
internodes [5,35]. Competition between tillers of the same clone is
reduced in this way, which may be important in arctic areas where
nutrient levels can be extremely low. Growth of a ramet is dependent on
the age of the parent tiller at the time the ramet is initiated. Clonal
plants such as Bigelow sedge that have persistant connections between
ramets generally have very low mortality rates in the youngest age
classes. However, young Bigelow sedge tillers may have a high mortality
rate when compared to other clonal species .
Bigelow sedge also reproduces sexually, producing at least some viable
seed . Shoots flower after 2 years of age and are wind pollinated
. Well-developed dormancy mechanisms allow for the incorporation of
Bigelow sedge seed into the buried seed pool . Seeds buried up to
200 years may germinate, but seedlings of younger seeds (buried 1 to 20
years) are more vigorous . Seedling recruitment after disturbance
is 8 to 12 times higher on organic soil than on mineral soil .
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Bigelow sedge is found in a wide range of habitats including open rocky
sites [16,31], gravel slopes , dry or wet tundra [26,31,37],
solifluction slopes [10,17,37], and subalpine and alpine meadows and
bogs [16,18,24,34]. It occurs at elevations ranging from 6,000 to
12,000 feet (1,818-3,636 m) in the Rocky Mountains .
Common associated species include willows (Salix spp.), dwarf arctic
birch (Betula nana), lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), bog blueberry
(V. uliginosum), crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), northern Labrador tea
(Ledum palustre), American green alder (Alnus crispa), cloudberry (Rubus
chamaemorus), alpine bearberry (Arctostaphylos alpina), varileaf
cinquefoil (Potentilla diversifolia), elephanthead lousewort
(Pedicularis groenlandica), white mountain avens (Dryas octopetala),
entire leaf mountain avens (D. integrifolia), alpine timothy (Phleum
alpinum), alpine rush (Juncus alpinus), tussock cottongrass (Eriophorum
vaginatum), polargrass (Arctagrostis latifolia), tufted hairgrass
(Deschampsia caespitosa), bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis
canadensis), other sedges (Carex spp.), feathermosses (Hylocomium and
Aulacomium spp.), lichens (Cladonia and Cladina spp.), and sphagnum
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Facultative Seral Species
Bigelow sedge colonizes disturbed sites through seed stored in the soil
. It may also persist throughout successional stages and can be
present in climax tundra or meadow vegetation .
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Bigelow sedge flowers from July to September depending on location
SPECIES: Carex bigelowii
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS:
Bigelow sedge is a seed-banking species [10,15,27] and can colonize
recently burned areas through germination of long-lived seed stored in
the soil [28,37]. It is possible that fire plays a role in activating
such on-site seed, but information on this topic is lacking. Bigelow
sedge may also sprout from remaining aboveground parts and rhizomes
following low-severity fires .
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY:
Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Additional information on Bigelow sedge fire ecology has become available since this review was
written. See the FEIS review on Fire regimes in Alaskan tundra communities.
SPECIES: Carex bigelowii
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Fire generally top-kills Bigelow sedge. High-severity fires may also
kill belowground vegetative portions.
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
Bigelow sedge generally recovers well following fire by sprouting or
seedling establishment. After tundra fires in northwestern Canada,
large numbers of seedlings became established within 2 years and formed
a continuous layer within 6 years. Recovery was due to increased
vegetative sprouting and seed germination followed by tillering .
Bigelow sedge became one of the most common plants on burned sites in
the growing season following a July fire on sedge tussock-shrub tundra
near Seward Peninsula, Alaska. Frequency in burned sites was 63
percent, but only 17 percent in unburned sites . The following
densities [shoots per sq foot (shoots/ sq m)] and frequency (f) and
cover (c) percentages were obtained following a moderate- to
high-severity fire in a birch shrub community near Seward Peninsula,
Prefire Postfire yr. 1 Postfire yr. 2
f c f c density f c density
Adults 10 10 0 0 0 (0) 5 1 1.2 (13)
Seedlings -- -- 10 1 1.2 (19) 10 3 2.3 (25)
Tillers -- -- 0 0 0 (0) 10 4 9.3 (100)
Chapin  found that Bigelow sedge leaf nitrogen and phosphorous
concentrations increased by 29 percent and 38 percent, respectively,
within 12 months following fire.
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
SPECIES: Carex bigelowii
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