Carex rostrata, C. utriculata


Anderson, Michelle D. 2008. Carex rostrata, C. utriculata. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].



beaked sedge

Carex rostrata:
swollen beaked sedge
beaked sedge
bottlebrush sedge

Carex utriculata:
Northwest Territory sedge
common yellow lake sedge

The scientific name of swollen beaked sedge is Carex rostrata Stokes (Cyperaceae) [6,38,41,50,63,65,66,75,133,141,153].

The scientific name of Northwest Territory sedge is C. utriculata Boott (Cyperaceae) [6,41,50,62,75,134,157,158].

According to Ford and others [42], studies by A. A. Reznicek at the University of Michigan herbarium have shown that swollen beaked sedge and Northwest Territory sedge are distinct species; Northwest Territory sedge was previously described as a variety of swollen beaked sedge. Swollen beaked sedge is circumpolar in distribution but generally much more common in Eurasia than in North America. Northwest Territory sedge is also circumpolar, but generally much more common in North America than Eurasia [42]. The range of Northwest Territory sedge encompasses all of the previously recognized North American range of swollen beaked sedge, which current taxonomy substantially reduces to Alaska, Canada, and a few northern states. Many authors assert that "beaked sedge" or C. rostrata has been misapplied in most of the literature accounts, and that the proper identification is Northwest Territory sedge, C. utriculata [41,83,107]. A collection by Kovalchik [83] identified beaked sedge in Washington and was described as the first record for Washington and the second for the western United States based on the conclusion of Reznicek that beaked sedge had been misapplied in North America: "What has been called C. rostrata Stokes is actually C. utricularia Boott."

There is little apparent difference between swollen beaked sedge and Northwest Territory sedge, other than small morphological characteristics. The ecological and habitat characteristics are the same. The majority of literature cited in this review names C. rostrata as the plant studied; however, this identification is suspect given the recent changes in accepted taxonomy and the large overlapping ranges of these two species. Given this confusion, swollen beaked sedge and Northwest Territory sedge are not distinguished throughout most of this review. The common name "beaked sedge" is used when referring to species identified in the literature as either C. rostrata or C. utriculata, because this is the most common name used in the literature. Where information can be uniquely attributed to Northwest Territory sedge, it is noted.

Carex rostrata hybridizes with C. oligosperma and C. saxatilis; rare sterile intermediates with C. utriculata are likely hybrids. Carex utriculata also forms rare sterile intermediate hybrids with C. exsiccata, C. hystericina, C. lacustris, C. pellita, C. rotundata, C. saxatilis, and C. vesicaria [41].

Based on morphological and genetic analyses, Ford and others [42] recognized the following hybrids:
Carex paludivagans (C. rotundata utriculata)
Carex physocarpoides (C. saxatilis utriculata)
C. membranacea utriculata

Carex rostrata
   =C. utriculata [65]

Carex utriculata
   =C. rostrata Stokes ex With. [31,61,65,73,77,90,101,159]
   =C. rostrata Stokes var. utriculata (Boott) Bailey [84,133]


No special status

Information on state-level protected status of plants in the United States is available at Plants Database.


SPECIES: Carex rostrata, C. utriculata
Swollen beaked sedge occurs from Alaska east through Canada to the Atlantic coastal provinces [48,66,133] and south to Washington, Montana, Minnesota, Ilinois, and Michigan [41,50,75,108,153]. Nekola [113] reports rare occurrence in Iowa.

Northwest Territory sedge occurs from Alaska east through Canada to the Atlantic coastal provinces [48,50,133] and south through the western United States to California, Arizona, and New Mexico [41,50,62,134,157,158]. It also occurs south of Canada in the lake states and northeastern United States to Ilinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Tennessee [41,50,75,135]. This is the range previously described for swollen beaked sedge [31,33,38,61,63,65,66,69,73,77,90,101,141,159], prior to the recognition of Northwest Territory sedge as a distinct species.

Flora of North America provides distributional maps of swollen beaked sedge and Northwest Territory sedge.

In western North America, beaked sedge occurs as a dominant herbaceous component of riparian communities; subarctic, boreal, and north-temperate wetlands; and wet subalpine meadows [1,9,23,24,36,41,65,116,122,128]. Common and potentially codominant sedge species include Nebraska sedge (C. nebrascensis), leafy tussock sedge (C. aquatilis), smallwinged sedge (C. microptera), wheat sedge (C. atherodes), woollyfruit sedge (C. lasiocarpa), mountain sedge (C. scopulorum), analogue sedge (C. simulata), and blister sedge (C. vesicaria) [1,20,21,23,24,102,103,118,119,122,123,128,131,138,144]. Other herbaceous associates include bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis), tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa), spotted water hemlock (Cicuta maculata),  fowl mannagrass (Glyceria striata), creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera), Baltic rush (Juncus balticus), and Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) [1,21,100,102,103,119,128,144]. Beaked sedge is also common in willow (Salix spp.) and shrub fens [30,36]. A study of fen vegetation in Rocky Mountain National Park found that beaked sedge had a low presence in treed fen areas but comprises 5% to 25% of cover in herbacous fen areas [72].

East of the Rocky Mountain region, common associates of beaked sedge include floating sphagnum mats (Spagnum spp.), woollyfruit sedge, leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata), sheathed cottonsedge (Eriophorum vaginatum), and white beaksedge (Rhynchospora alba) in fens [104]; leatherleaf, sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), and sweetgale (Myrica gale) in peatlands [137]; northern reedgrass (Calamagrostis stricta), leafy tussock sedge, and American mannagrass (G. grandis) in marshes [97,109]; and leafy tussock sedge, tussock sedge (Carex stricta), and hairy sedge (C. lacustris) in sedge meadows of the Midwest [111,146].

Beaked sedge forms nearly monospecific stands in some areas, comprising >90% of standing vegetation [1,25,46,102,116]. Stands dominated by Northwest Territory sedge are common and characteristic of peatlands throughout the Rocky Mountains, where it may account for 95% of cover [26]. The site conditions where beaked sedge is prevalent (seasonal flooding, shallow water table depths, and anaerobic soil conditions) may often prohibit the establishment of other species, reducing community diversity [39].

Vegetation classifications describing plant communities where beaked sedge is a dominant species follow. Note that plant community names may not reflect the currently accepted taxonomy and geographic distribution.

Alaska: California: Colorado: Idaho: Minnesota: Montana: Nevada: New Mexico: Oregon: Utah: Washington: Wyoming: British Columbia: Canadian Prairie Provinces:


SPECIES: Carex rostrata, C. utriculata
This description provides characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology, and is not meant for identification. Keys for identification are available (e.g., [50,133]).

A grasslike perennial [65], beaked sedge is strongly rhizomatous [1,42,133] and colonial [50], sometimes forming a dense sod [31,50,68,78]. Creeping rhizomes are long, slender or stout, and deep-seated [31,50,62,65,66,73,93,101,157,158], ranging from 0.4 inches to 8 feet (1 cm to 2.5 m) long [67]. Rhizomes generally lack roots, but roots occasionally do grow from the preceding year's rhizomes [67]. In greenhouse experiments, beaked sedge adjusted its rooting depth to groundwater depth (maintained at 4, 19, and 35 cm) [142].

Beaked sedge culms grow singly or a few together from rhizomes [31,61,65,68,73,78,93,159]. These thick culms grow 12 to 55 inches (30-140 cm) tall [25,31,61,62,65,66,68,73,78,93,141,157,158,159]. Slender to stout stems are obliquely ascending, 19 to 47 inches (50-120 cm) tall [42,50,133]. Thick and stiff, beaked sedge leaves are 1 to 12 mm wide [31,50,61,65,66,93,101,133,141,159].

The beaked sedge inflorescence is 6 to 18 inches (15-45 cm) tall and composed of several elongate spikes (typically 4-10), erect or nearly erect [65,159]. The 2 to 4 upper spikes are staminate and 0.4 to 2.4 inches (1-6 cm) long, and the lower 2 to 5 spikes are pistillate, 1 to 1.5 cm long, and densely flowered [31,61,65,66,141,159]. Beaked sedge perigynia are 4 to 10 mm long and horizontal or spreading at maturity [31,42,61,62,66,101,133,141,153,159].

Swollen beaked sedge and Northwest Territory sedge can be differentiated by some morphological characteristics. Swollen beaked sedge has narrow, involute, glaucous leaves with stomata on the upper surface, while Northwest Territory sedge leaves are broad, flat, and green on both sides with stomata below [42,50,83]. Northwest Territory sedge has different leaf anatomy and a different leaf shape in cross-section. Plants from the western and northern portions of the range often have perigynia strongly tinged with purple, though that coloration can also occur elsewhere, albeit rarely [41].

Stand structure: Beaked sedge is infrequent and local in large portions of its range, often forming large colonies [41]. It may grow in nearly pure stands [25,52,68,116,161], covering broad valley bottoms [68], riparian areas [116,161], and wetlands [25]. It can form dense mats when growing on saturated sites [58,155], often precluding the establishment of competing grasses and forbs [52]. Beaked sedge can form a loose floating mat in oligotrophic lakes [45].


Beaked sedge regenerates from seed and vegetatively from rhizomes [10,151]. Soon after establishing, individuals originating from seed rapidly spread vegetatively [151].

Pollination: Beaked sedge is wind-pollinated [17].

Breeding system: Beaked sedge is monoecious [31,61,65,66,141,159].

Seed production: Beaked sedge rarely produces flowers in dry years [130].

Seed dispersal: Beaked sedge seeds are water-borne and flood-dispersed [17,105,139]. Seeds float for at least one month and may stay afloat for up to a year [139].

Seed banking: In a survey of Cyperaceae seed bank studies, Leck and Schutz [92] listed a study in Finland that found evidence of viable beaked sedge seed at soil depths of 0 to 4 inches (0-10 cm) and in northwest Germany at 4 to 18 inches (10-45 cm). Seed storage research has shown that when exposed to diurnally fluctuating temperatures, fresh beaked sedge seeds have higher germination rates than stored seeds [16,17], and 22% to 48% of seeds stored under varying conditions retain viability for 2.5 years [17]. However, no information is available regarding longevity of beaked sedge seeds in the soil seed bank under field conditions.

Germination: Beaked sedge seeds mature in late summer and may overwinter before germination; however, wet/cold stratification is not necessary to stimulate germination [16,17,74]. It has been suggested that beaked sedge germination may require drawdown of water in saturated areas [105]. However, laboratory research has shown that seed in saturated and moistened water regimes had 10% and 8% average germination, respectively, while alternating dry/saturated conditions had 4% average germination [17]. For more information on seed storage and germination studies, see the Value for Rehabilitation of Disturbed Sites section of this review.

Seedling establishment/growth: A study of oxbow lakes in Alberta found that beaked sedge was more likely to dominate oxbow vegetation where water levels are stable than where the levels fluctuate [94]. Beaked sedge shoot numbers and biomass production remain relatively constant over time on sites with small water level changes. Beaked sedge can survive in an environment with large water level fluctuations, but shoot size is influenced. High water during early summer reduces the number of shoots produced, while low water increases the number of shoots [67]. Shoot density may be higher on seasonally flooded sites than on sites characterized by year-round surface water, indicating that stands may recede over time with prolonged inundation [52].

Vegetative regeneration: Beaked sedge produces both long, spreading rhizomes and short, clumping rhizomes, which result in a matted and tufted growth pattern. The pattern is initiated by a shoot emerging at the end of a long rhizome; short rhizomes then develop to produce a tuft. These tufts, or tiller clumps, are composed of many shoots and tend to alternate with open areas of the site that lack plants [10]. A study of succession on a bare peat surface in Finland showed beaked sedge established in a heterogeneous point pattern, with many shoots occurring in a few clumps and few or none elsewhere [151].

A Swedish study of beaked sedge growth found that it formed indistinct tussocks consisting of dead or dying shoots; fertile and old, sterile shoots; current shoots; and new shoots. The new shoots develop either from the base of old shoots or from the tip of a horizontally growing rhizome. Fertile, old sterile, and current shoots can each form both types of new shoots. Dead shoots may still have living roots or rhizomes and establish new daughter shoots. Shoots from horizontally growing rhizomes emerged in open spots from the indistinct tussocks or within a neighboring tussock [67].

Beaked sedge can also spread by fragmentation. Old shoots that break off with associated roots can be transported by water and may establish on shore or in floating peat, developing new shoots from their bases [67].

Sites where beaked sedge commonly occurs include shrub heaths, open and wooded fens, wet meadows, bogs, peatlands, prairie potholes, seeps, wetlands, and riparian areas [1,2,21,27,43,44,49,51,68,69,71,84,93,96,100,104,131,133,137,144,146,153,158]. Beaked sedge stands typically colonize wet meadows and seeps with subsurface flow and are often associated with active or abandoned beaver complexes [52,103]. Beaked sedge is tolerant of seasonal flooding, shallow water table depths, and anaerobic soil conditions [39,91,144]. In the Northeast, Northwest Territory sedge may dominate areas in open sphagnum peatlands [3] or where an existing sphagnum mat has been disturbed [137]. Stands dominated by Northwest Territory sedge are common and characteristic of peatlands throughout the Rocky Mountains that have seasonal standing water up to 15 inches (40 cm) deep [26,30,122].

Site moisture: Beaked sedge grows on sites with high soil moisture, typically with the water table at or above the soil surface during the growing season [11,20,50,56,58,78,89,102,112,116,124,138]. A study of Saskatchewan peatlands found that beaked sedge attained its greatest frequency on sites where the water level was 0.4 to 7.5 inches (1-19 cm) above the soil surface [71]. Though beaked sedge often occupies sites inundated with a few inches of standing or slowly flowing water [52,132], it may also establish on somewhat drier sites lacking surface water for part of the year [52]. The beaked sedge habitat type in Montana occurs both in standing water and on sites that become relatively dry late in the growing season [56,58]. Depth to water table ranges from 0 to 39 inches (100 cm) during the summer [25,36,132,162].

On some beaked sedge sites, water tables are often above the surface year-long and rarely drop below the rooting zone [8,18,20,34,35,68,87,107,127,128]. These sites may have still pools or slow-moving water up to 18 inches (45 cm) deep [68,159] constantly recharged by flows from upstream [126]. Where overland flow is present, beaked sedge may form hummocks or tussocks that develop over time as individual clusters of sod resist the gradual erosion and downcutting of numerous associated micro-channels [52]. Stagnant water from flooding in the lower Fraser River Valley, British Columbia in summer 1948 top-killed beaked sedge, but new growth from rhizomes began soon after flood waters receded [14].

Soils: Beaked sedge occurs on a range of soil types, with textures from silt loams or silty clays to loamy sands [52,56,58,91,98,124,127,128,162]. Mature stands develop organic horizons up to 3.5 feet (1 m) deep [52,68,68,98,102,162], often as a result of low temperatures at high elevations and a generally anaerobic surface soil environment slowing decomposition [35,102]. Soil organic matter content commonly reaches 20% [124,127,128]. High water tables facilitate oxidation/reduction reactions that produce mottled or gleyed soil characteristics [52].  Beaked sedge typically occurs on acidic soils with thin, poorly decomposed organic surface layers [19,102,127,138]. The pH of sites supporting beaked sedge typically ranges from <5.0 [3,33,96,124] to 7.0 [36,56,58,71]. Rocky Mountain peatland sites often have pH as low as 3.75 [26]. Beaked sedge also grows on alkaline sites with higher pH and calcium levels [2,144]. Beaked sedge is moderately tolerant of salinity [144,156].

Elevation: The elevational distribution of beaked sedge ranges from lowlands [31,56,58,141] to high elevations [56,58,78] in the mountains of western North America. It is common at middle elevations but extends to near timberline [68], frequently occurring in or dominating alpine and subalpine wet meadows [138]. The following table, though not exhaustive, presents information on the elevational range of beaked sedge in various parts of its range.

Elevational range of beaked sedge by state
State Elevation
Arizona 7,500 to 9,500 feet (2,286-2,896 m) [77]
California 3,400 to 7,120 feet (1,036-2,170 m) [62,128]
Colorado 5,000 to 12,500 feet (1,524-3,810 m) [29,61,88,134]
Idaho 6,000 to 9,800 feet (1,830-2,987 m) [152,162]
Minnesota up to 1,000 feet (305 m) [146]
Montana 2,320 to 7,800 feet (707-2,377 m) [52,58,58]
Nevada 5,800 to 8,520 feet (1,768-2,597 m) [98]
New Mexico up to 10,000 feet (3,048 m) [23,24]
New York 1,486 to 1,640 feet (453-500 m) [84]
Oregon up to 10,000 feet (3,048 m) [20]
Utah 6,000 to 10,500 feet (1,830-3,200 m) [152,159]
Washington 2,380 to 10,000 feet  (725-3,048 m) [20,82,140]
West Virginia 3,400 to 4,600 feet (1,036-1,402 m) [33]
Wyoming 5,000 to 11,000 feet (1,524-3,353 m) [26,29,46,65,155]

Beaked sedge prefers open, unshaded areas [2].

Beaked sedge functions as a pioneer colonizer of exposed mineral substrates with continually high water tables (e.g., drained beaver ponds) and persists indefinitely [20,52,56,79,98,151,155,162]. Hansen [55] has described Montana riparian areas where beaked sedge communities develop as pioneers that persist to form climax communities. In Alaska, the beaked sedge community type is an early to mid-seral community that develops into peatland communities [11]. High water tables and a vigorous rhizome network limit the establishment of other species [52,56,162]. In willow communities with beaked sedge-dominated understories, light surface disturbances may result in short-term changes in species composition, but beaked sedge usually regains complete dominance when disturbance factors are eliminated [162].

Beaked sedge communities are stable, but willows and other sedge species can establish if organic matter accumulates and the water table drops [102,162]. Beaked sedge may dominate marsh wetland vegetation in the Sierra Nevada, but as drier conditions develop (i.e., during drought), these communities increase in species diversity. However, beaked sedge-dominated communities are resilient, persisting through drought conditions and recovering after reflooding of the area [130]. In Colorado, sedge moors form at the border of montane lakes or riparian areas and are often considered early successional. As the soil builds up with peat formation and the water table drops below the soil surface, willow communities or wet meadows develop and coniferous forest types may eventually develop [123,132]. In Oregon, beaked sedge riparian communities form in depressions or behind beaver dams, replacing more hydric communities (e.g., broadleaf cattail (Typha latifolia)) as siltation occurs [116]. As siltation continues, these beaked sedge communities are likely replaced by Baltic rush communities with overstory willow. These communities may replace stands of aspen where beaver browsing and damming have eliminated aspen [116]. Beaked sedge may in turn invade communities normally found on drier sites as a result of increasingly high water tables (e.g., newly ponded areas) [30,98,162].

Some beaked sedge shoots may emerge aboveground in autumn, while other shoots do not grow enough to emerge in autumn and remain dormant below ground, emerging in the spring [10]. There is often a considerable standing live crop in winter [127]. Maximum life span of individual shoots has been estimated at 24 months in temperate zones and 60 months in arctic-alpine zones [10]. Roots are generally lacking when shoots emerge, but they later develop from basal parts of the current shoots [67]. Beaked sedge produces leaves that live for portions of 2 growing seasons. At the end of the first growing season (late summer) these leaves become brown only to turn green again the following spring [34]. In most sedges, inflorescence buds form in autumn and flower the next summer [10,67]. Beaked sedge flowers from July to September, with most seed set in August [48,78]. Seeds ripen from August to September [68,84]. Shoots often begin to wither after the fruiting spikes have matured [67].


SPECIES: Carex rostrata, C. utriculata
Fire adaptations: Beaked sedge sprouts from rhizomes [10,151], so it is likely to be able to sprout after top-kill by fire. However, peat soils like those common in beaked sedge communities can be flammable when dry, and heat from severe fires may penetrate the soil, destroying beaked sedge rhizomes [81]. There are reports of beaked sedge seeds in the soil seed bank up to 18 inches deep [92], so it may establish from on-site seed after fire.

Fire regimes: Little research is available regarding fire regimes specific to beaked sedge. Fire regime and fire occurrence in mountain meadows or fens, where beaked sedge is often common or dominant, are in part the product of fire in surrounding forest vegetation, as is the vegetation composition of these areas over time [40]. Lower elevation meadows are likely more often impacted by forest fires than are higher elevation meadows, perhaps due to lighter fuel loads, greater fuel moisture, and more moderate burning conditions. Little is known about fires in meadows at high elevations; a low-severity fire across a meadow generally affects vegetative composition only slightly, but changes in herbaceous vegetation could result after a severe fire [125]. Meadows are not likely to burn when the herbage is grazed or in years of normal precipitation; however, they may burn when herbage is tall and dry or during droughts. A fire crossing a meadow with high soil moisture usually consumes only current growth and some mulch. Under very dry conditions, ground fires may occur that damage the meadow considerably [34,125], consuming the organic matter forming the bulk of many of these soils [125]. During periods of prolonged drought, plant communities dominated or co-dominated by beaked sedge may become susceptible to fire. During drought, green-up of the previous year's growth is reduced, resulting in an abundance of dry material that forms a continuous layer of matted surface fuel. Where these fuel conditions exist, they can contribute to greater fire severity [34].

Information about fire ecology in high-elevation meadows comes primarily from studies in the Sierra Nevada. Fires may play an important role in the evolution and maintenance of wet, sedge-dominated meadows of the Sierra Nevada, influencing the forest-meadow boundary [125] and reducing woody species invasion [20,125,160]. Natural fires are estimated to occur in mountain meadows at intervals of several hundred years [125].

The following table provides fire regime information that may be relevant to beaked sedge:

Fire regime information on vegetation communities in which beaked sedge may occur. For each community, fire regime characteristics are taken from the LANDFIRE Rapid Assessment Vegetation Models [86]. These vegetation models were developed by local experts using available literature, local data, and/or expert opinion as documented in the .pdf file linked from each Potential Natural Vegetation Group listed below. Cells are blank where information is not available in the Rapid Assessment Vegetation Model.
Pacific Northwest California Southwest Great Basin Northern Rockies
Northern Great Plains Great Lakes Northeast Southern Appalachians
Pacific Northwest
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Northwest Grassland
Marsh Replacement 74% 7    
Mixed 26% 20    
Alpine and subalpine meadows and grasslands Replacement 68% 350 200 500
Mixed 32% 750 500 >1,000
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
California Grassland
Herbaceous wetland Replacement 70% 15    
Mixed 30% 35    
Wet mountain meadow-Lodgepole pine (subalpine) Replacement 21% 100    
Mixed 10% 200    
Surface or low 69% 30    
Alpine meadows and barrens Replacement 100% 200 200 400
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Southwest Grassland
Montane and subalpine grasslands Replacement 55% 18 10 100
Surface or low 45% 22    
Montane and subalpine grasslands with shrubs or trees Replacement 30% 70 10 100
Surface or low 70% 30    
Southwest Forested
Riparian forest with conifers Replacement 100% 435 300 550
Riparian deciduous woodland Replacement 50% 110 15 200
Mixed 20% 275 25  
Surface or low 30% 180 10  
Stable aspen without conifers Replacement 81% 150 50 300
Surface or low 19% 650 600 >1,000
Great Basin
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Great Basin Grassland
Mountain meadow (mesic to dry) Replacement 66% 31 15 45
Mixed 34% 59 30 90
Great Basin Forested
Stable aspen-cottonwood, no conifers Replacement 31% 96 50 300
Surface or low 69% 44 20 60
Aspen with spruce-fir Replacement 38% 75 40 90
Mixed 38% 75 40  
Surface or low 23% 125 30 250
Stable aspen without conifers Replacement 81% 150 50 300
Surface or low 19% 650 600 >1,000
Northern Rockies
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Northern Rockies Grassland
Northern prairie grassland Replacement 55% 22 2 40
Mixed 45% 27 10 50
Mountain grassland Replacement 60% 20 10  
Mixed 40% 30    
Northern Rockies Shrubland
Riparian (Wyoming)
Mixed 100% 100 25 500
Northern Great Plains
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Northern Plains Grassland
Northern tallgrass prairie Replacement 90% 6.5 1 25
Mixed 9% 63    
Surface or low 2% 303    
Northern Plains Woodland
Northern Great Plains wooded draws and ravines Replacement 38% 45 30 100
Mixed 18% 94    
Surface or low 43% 40 10  
Great Plains floodplain Replacement 100% 500    
Great Lakes
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Great Lakes Grassland
Mosaic of bluestem prairie and oak-hickory Replacement 79% 5 1 8
Mixed 2% 260    
Surface or low 20% 2   33
Great Lakes Forested
Northern hardwood maple-beech-eastern hemlock Replacement 60% >1,000    
Mixed 40% >1,000    
Conifer lowland (embedded in fire-prone system) Replacement 45% 120 90 220
Mixed 55% 100    
Conifer lowland (embedded in fire-resistant ecosystem) Replacement 36% 540 220 >1,000
Mixed 64% 300    
Great Lakes floodplain forest
Mixed 7% 833    
Surface or low 93% 61    
Great Lakes spruce-fir Replacement 100% 85 50 200
Minnesota spruce-fir (adjacent to Lake Superior and Drift and Lake Plain) Replacement 21% 300    
Surface or low 79% 80    
Eastern white pine-eastern hemlock Replacement 54% 370    
Mixed 12% >1,000    
Surface or low 34% 588    
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Northeast Grassland
Northern coastal marsh Replacement 97% 7 2 50
Mixed 3% 265 20  
Northeast Forested
Northern hardwoods (Northeast) Replacement 39% >1,000    
Mixed 61% 650    
Eastern white pine-northern hardwoods Replacement 72% 475    
Surface or low 28% >1,000    
Northern hardwoods-eastern hemlock Replacement 50% >1,000    
Surface or low 50% >1,000    
Southern Appalachians
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Southern Appalachians Forested
Bottomland hardwood forest Replacement 25% 435 200 >1,000
Mixed 24% 455 150 500
Surface or low 51% 210 50 250
Eastern hemlock-eastern white pine-hardwood Replacement 17% >1,000 500 >1,000
Surface or low 83% 210 100 >1,000
*Fire Severities:
Replacement=Any fire that causes greater than 75% top removal of a vegetation-fuel type, resulting in general replacement of existing vegetation; may or may not cause a lethal effect on the plants.
Mixed=Any fire burning more than 5% of an area that does not qualify as a replacement, surface, or low-severity fire; includes mosaic and other fires that are intermediate in effects.
Surface or low=Any fire that causes less than 25% upper layer replacement and/or removal in a vegetation-fuel class but burns 5% or more of the area [54,85].

Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil
Tussock graminoid
Ground residual colonizer (on site, initial community)


SPECIES: Carex rostrata, C. utriculata
There is little information in the literature regarding fire effects on beaked sedge; presumably, it is top-killed by fire. Severe fires may also destroy plant structures below the surface [81].

When soils with high organic matter content (like those of beaked sedge communities) are dry, heat from severe fires may penetrate the soil and/or consume organic surface layers, destroying beaked sedge rhizomes [81]. However, Debenedetti and Parsons [34,35] documented rapid recovery of beaked sedge in a Sierra subalpine meadow despite extensive destruction of soil organic matter and root biomass by the occurrence of fire during drought.

Beaked sedge sprouts from rhizomes [10,151]. Following a wildfire in a Sierra Nevada subalpine meadow dominated by beaked sedge, tufted hairgrass, Idaho bentgrass (Agrostis idahoensis), and Mexican rush (Juncus mexicanus), percent cover of beaked sedge was around 3% in the postfire years 1 and 2 but increased to around 12% in postfire years 3 and 4 [35].

A study following a severe wildfire in the North Fork of the Flathead River drainage described regrowth of beaked sedge on wet meadow sites as "dense and lush" by the 2nd postfire growing season [154,160]. Fires in sedge meadows typically burn surface litter; however, some of these meadows sustained areas with ground fires that burned organic layers to mineral soil. The wet meadows in the area have a layer of peat as thick as 12 to 18 inches (30-46 cm) overlying the mineral soil. The peat surface was generally charred but not consumed by the fire. In microsites where surface wood or woody vegetation was present, wood combustion ignited the peat, which burned to mineral soil. Most of the surface area of burned sedge meadows was revegetated in the 1st postfire year. Plant regeneration occurred primarily from existing rhizomes and roots. Where peat burned and mineral soil was exposed, rhizomes and roots were killed, slowing revegetation. By the 2nd postfire summer, beaked sedge had regrown from buried rhizomes, and it dominated the vegetation. Woody species encroachment was reduced, with many charred root crowns dead by posfire year 3 and no new woody establishment observed [160].

Average postfire ground and vegetative cover (%) for sedge meadow sites burned by the 1988 Red Bench fire, Glacier National Park [160]
Vegetative cover 1989
(postfire year 1)
(postfire year 2)
(postfire year 3)
Trees 0.1 0.1 0.0
Shrubs 0.3 0.5 0.1
Graminoids 64.0 68.0 77.1
Carex rostrata 55.7 68.7 68.7
Forbs 2.4 2.5 5.1

No additional information is available on this topic.

Prescribed fire generally promotes beaked sedge. Prescribed burning reduces litter and increases productivity of beaked sedge [35,52,56,58,81]. Burning under relatively wet conditions would probably not result in long-term vegetation changes in mountain meadows [125]. A study of low- to moderate-severity prescribed fire in a Sierra Nevada alpine wet meadow found that, while fire resulted in increased bare ground and reduced plant litter, there was no change in plant community composition. Fire increased living sedge cover almost threefold by postfire year 1. Burning when plants are dormant and soil moisture is high enough to prevent burning of soil organic matter prevents change in meadow vegetation and allows rapid postfire recovery [13].

Encroachment of shrubs into wetlands is often attributed to fire exclusion or a combination of fire suppression and cattle grazing [106]. Frequent, low-severity fire may be used to prevent woody species establishment in open meadows [160]. Burning of open sedge-grass meadows in Wisconsin can slow woody species encroachment and is most effective when vegetation is actively growing [95]. A study by Middleton [106] found that winter burning was not effective in reducing woody species in a Wisconsin sedge meadow (dominated by tussock sedge, beaked sedge present). However, winter burning may be useful in maintaining species richness in ungrazed meadow areas by stimulating germination from seed banks [106]. In another Wisconsin sedge meadow study, prescribed fire removed plant litter, but litter returned to preburn levels within 2 years. After 7 years, burned and unburned meadow plots did not differ in live biomass, litter, or relative cover of plant life forms. Authors concluded that periodic burns do not cause a major shift in the relative dominance of sedges and grasses. However, because litter removal promotes the recruitment of shorter-lived forbs, prescribed fire can temporarily increase sedge meadow diversity. Periodic seed inputs of forbs to the wet meadow seedbank may also contribute to long-term sedge meadow diversity [80].

Several authors recommend excluding livestock from beaked sedge communities during the year prior to burning [35,52,56,58], perhaps to allow fuel accumulation. Residual cover burns well in spring prior to the growing season [35,52,56,58]. Beaked sedge communities can also be burned in late summer or in dry years when water tables drop below the surface [81]. After burning, grazing should remain restricted for 2 to 3 years to avoid damage to young regrowth [35,52,56,58].

Some authors have evaluated the effectiveness of using fire to reduce beaked sedge. Though details are not presented, Uhler [150] describes complete control of beaked sedge by means of "root burns" when marsh soil has been dried to a depth of 3 to 6 inches. Vogl [152] found that prescribed fire in an open sphagnum bog or muskeg reduced average percent frequency of beaked sedge.


SPECIES: Carex rostrata, C. utriculata
Beaked sedge is grazed by cattle, horses, moose, elk, mule deer, bison, grizzly bears, and sandhill cranes [76,102,105,131,147,162]. Due to low stature and structural diversity, beaked sedge stands may serve as foraging areas rather than nesting habitat for avian species [162].

Reports of seasonal use of beaked sedge vary. Some authors describe beaked sedge grazed by livestock and wildlife to some extent in early spring, but not late in the season due to the coarseness of mature leaves [61,68]. Others contend that cattle, horses, elk, bison, and mule deer use it moderately in late summer, fall, and winter [61,68,131,147,162], and others report that beaked sedge is grazed year-round by cattle [147].

Palatability/nutritional value: The coarse, tough phytomass of beaked sedge has high amounts of silica and is generally considered of low to moderate resource value for livestock and wildlife [61,99]. It has been reported as moderately palatable to cattle [1] and as excellent forage for cattle [69].

Ratings of beaked sedge palatability by species and state [37]. Cells are left blank when no ranking was given.
State Utah Colorado Wyoming Montana North Dakota
Cattle good fair fair fair good
Horses good fair fair good good
Sheep fair fair poor fair fair
Elk good        
Mule deer fair        
Antelope poor        
Upland game poor        
Waterfowl poor     good  
Small nongame birds fair        
Small mammals fair        

Average nutritional values of beaked sedge appear to change little during the growing season. Samples were taken once a month for 5 months over a 4 year period. Annual data have been averaged to provide a more concise description of seasonal trends; the complete tables can be found in Beath and Hamilton's report [7].

Nutritional analysis of beaked sedge from Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming (% dry matter) [7]
Month sampled Moisture Ash Crude protein Ether extract Crude fiber Calcium Phosphorus
June 6.12 7.49 14.82 3.35 23.78 0.39 0.28
July 6.20 7.99 12.07 3.39 26.93 0.32 0.27
August 6.84 7.97 11.03 3.31 28.0 0.34 0.25
September 5.66 8.70 9.63 3.21 28.15 0.38 0.27
October 5.30 9.13 7.54 2.73 29.13 0.36 0.23

Cover value: The dense sod formed by beaked sedge's extensive rhizome and root systems forms overhanging streambanks and provides excellent cover for fish [56,58,68,81]. Beaked sedge may also provide cover for trumpeter swan nests [102]. Dittberner and Olson [37] rate beaked sedge as fair cover for upland game birds, waterfowl, and small nongame birds, and as good cover for small mammals.

Beaked sedge has a dense network of rhizomatous roots and forms a thick sod that is highly resistant to erosion [52,58] and is effective in stabilizing streambanks [52,56,58,68,81]. The closely crowded erect stalks of beaked sedge are also useful in trapping sediment in runoff and keeping it from depositing in streams [118,132]. Northwest Territory sedge is commonly used to restore riparian and wetland areas in the Intermountain Region [74], though establishment in disturbed wetland vegetation may require hydrologic modification (drainage improvement, road modification) to ensure shallow water tables necessary for success [117]. Northwest Territory sedge rhizomes planted for revegetation of mined peatlands at high elevation (9,500-10,200 feet (2,900-3,100 m)) in Colorado had 65% survival after 2 years [27].

Beaked sedge grows on acidic mine spoils [15].

Fresh beaked sedge seeds have much higher germination rates than stored seeds, and though seeds mature in late summer and may overwinter before germination, initial wet/cold stratification is not necessary to stimulate germination [16,17,74], though it may increase germination [74]. In a laboratory study of seed storage and germination, germination rates of beaked sedge were highest in fresh seeds when they were exposed to diurnally fluctuating temperatures, ranging from 28% germination at 68/59 F (20/15 C) to 22% germination at 77/68 F (25/20 C). Fresh seeds incubated under static temperatures did not germinate [16,17]. Another study found germination of Northwest Territory sedge is increased by subjecting seeds to a fluctuating temperature regime, with gradually fluctuating temperatures from 50 to 75 F (10-24 C) resulting in approximately 80% germination, compared to seeds kept at constant temperatures that had <20% germination.

Germination of beaked sedge varies with storage conditions. Northwest Territory sedge loses viability in dry storage; wet, cold storage conditions are recommended, as is use of seed that is <2.5 years old [74]. The studies by Budelsky and Galatowitsch [16,17] found a gradual shift in germination response toward higher temperatures as beaked sedge seeds aged. The highest germination rates occurred after 6 and 10 months of storage with wet/cold (39 F (4 C)) or dry/warm (73 F (23 C)) conditions [16,17]. After 14 months, seeds stored in moist-cold conditions had the highest germination rates. After 2.5 years, beaked sedge seeds stored wet/cold and dry/cold maintained the highest baseline viability, while dry/warm storage was associated with the lowest viability [16,17]. Short-term wet/cold stratification did not improve germination rates of seeds in long-term (2.5 years) dry storage [17].

Percent viability of beaked sedge seeds after 2.5 years storage under different conditions [17]
(no storage)
Dry/warm (73 F) storage Dry/cold (39 F) storage Moist/cold storage Wet/cold storage
70% 22% 47% 38% 48%

When the impact of water regimes was evaluated, saturated and moistened water regimes had 10% and 8% average germination, respectively, while alternating dry/saturated conditions had 4% average germination. The highest germination rate achieved by this study was 60%, achieved by subjecting fresh beaked sedge seeds to a combination of 77/68 F temperature regime and saturated conditions [17].

No information is available on this topic.

With adequate time for regrowth between uses, beaked sedge is considered moderately tolerant of grazing [1], though it may be replaced by other species when heavily grazed over extended periods [1,52,155]. A Montana study of riparian grazing found that mean shoot density of beaked sedge was 12% to 16% higher in grazed treatments than in ungrazed treatments, and mean shoot emergence was 20% greater in grazed treatments. Productivity, as measured by shoot height, was similar between the treatments [1]. A study of Oregon moist meadows found beaked sedge was more competitive than timothy (Phleum pratense) and tall buttercup (Ranunculus acris) on ungrazed sites. Competitive characteristics include early and rapid growth, a tall dense growth form, vegetative reproduction, and high litter production (which may influence both nutrient availability and microclimate) [51]. Progression of Wisconsin sedge meadows (dominated by tussock sedge) to shrub-dominated fens is likely encouraged by cattle grazing and not strictly the outcome of succession [105]. The saturated soils in beaked sedge community types are likely susceptible to trampling [116], though high water tables throughout the growing season tend to limit access by livestock and thereby reduce impacts [52,155].

A study of clearcutting in a Colorado subalpine forest presented data for sedges (Carex spp.) in general, and on some sites sedge cover significantly (P=0.05) increased in the 5 years after logging [32].

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