Eriophorum viridicarinatum

Table of Contents


SPECIES: Eriophorum viridicarinatum
Green-keeled cottongrass near Foot Lake, British Columbia. Photos courtesy of Curtis Bjork.

Innes, Robin J. 2013. Eriophorum viridicarinatum. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].


green-keeled cottongrass
tassel cottongrass
thinleaf cottonsedge
thin-leaved cotton-grass
thinleaved cottongrass

The scientific name of green-keeled cottongrass is Eriophorum viridicarinatum (Engelm.) Fernald (Cyperaceae) [5,10,14,18,21,22,26,27,28,35,43,46,50,52].

Eriophorum latifolium Hoppe var. viridi-carinatum Engelm. [14]
Eriophorum latifolium Hoppe var. viridi-carinatum (Engelm.) Fernald [23]
Eriophorum latifolium Hoppe var. viridicarinatum Engelm. [22]
Eriophorum viridi-carinatum (Engelm.) Fernald [3,13,23,38,45,51]
Eriophorum viridicarinatum forma viridicarinatum [47]
Eriophorum viridicarinatum forma fellowsii Fernald [46,47]

In June of 2013 an extensive search was done to locate information on green-keeled cottongrass (see FEIS's list of source literature), with few results. The following paragraphs provide details of the available information.


SPECIES: Eriophorum viridicarinatum
Green-keeled cottongrass is native to northern North America. It occurs from Alaska south to Washington, east to New Jersey, and north to Newfoundland and Labrador. It has been extirpated from Illinois [26].

Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2013. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC. (2013, August 1).

States and provinces [49]:
United States: AK, CO, CT, IA, ID, IN, MA, ME, MI, MN, MT, ND, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VT, WA, WI, WY
Canada: AB, BC, LB, MB, NB, NF, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Green-keeled cottongrass occurs in mesic to hydric soils [19,27]. It is common in wetlands (see Plant Communities). It is considered an obligate wetland species (occurs in wetlands >99% of the time) in every region where it occurs [33]. Green-keeled cottongrass does not grow in deep water. In fens in north-central Quebec near Schefferville, it was rarely found rooted in water that was ≥10 inches (25 cm) deep; on average, it was rooted in water that was 2.6 inches (6.7 cm) deep [9]. In southern Michigan fens, green-keeled cottongrass was absent from the submerged plant zone (the deepest water zone) and the zone of water lilies (Nymphaea spp. (water up to 5 feet (1.5 m) deep)), but it was present in the floating sedge zone. In the floating sedge zone, the sedge (Carex and Eriophorum spp.) mat was "very firm" and about 18 inches (46 cm) thick. The dominant mat-forming plants were downy-fruited sedge (C. tomentosa) and fewseed sedge (C. oligosperma). Shallower water zones were dominated by shrubs and trees [7].

Green-keeled cottongrass grows in strongly acid to moderately alkaline wetlands (pH from 5.3-8.0) [9,19,34]. In central Alberta, it was present only in strongly minerotrophic peatlands, which were pH neutral to mildly alkaline and calcium rich [25]. On the Flathead National Forest, Montana, green-keeled cottongrass occurred in highly calcareous fens [8]. In New England, it prefers limy soils [25,47]. In 8 peatland types on Duck Mountain, Manitoba, green-keeled cottongrass was most common in open shore, moderate-rich fens where peat was approximately 4 to 9 feet (1-3 m) deep. Indicator plants of this community were Blandow's helodium moss (Helodium blandowii), boreal bog sedge (C. magellanica), and purple marshlocks (Comarum palustre) [34].

Some authors noted green-keeled cottongrass's preference for areas with high light, such as open areas and clearings [12,34,51].

Throughout its range, green-keeled cottongrass occurs from 0 to 6,600 feet (2,000 m) [14,19,27,36]. In the Pacific Northwest [22], British Columbia [27], Montana [44], and Wyoming [10], it typically occurs in montane and alpine zones. In British Columbia, it occurred on slopes ranging from 0% to 55%, but it typically occurred on shallow slopes (mean: 2.3%) [27].

Green-keeled cottongrass occurs in marshes, wet meadows, bogs, fens, wet woodlands, and swamps (e.g., [13,14,21,23,31,35,38,45,46,47]). On the Gespé Peninsula in southeastern Quebec and in New Brunswick [12], Maine [2,12], Michigan [11,51], and Minnesota [17], green-keeled cottongrass occurred in bogs and swamps of tamarack (Larix laricina), black spruce (Picea mariana), northern whitecedar (Thuja occidentalis), and fir (Abies spp.), especially in open areas and clearings. It frequently occurred in sphagnum (Sphagnum spp.) marshes and bogs in Alaska [3], Quebec [39], and New York [6]. Authors described green-keeled cottongrass as frequent in birch (Betula spp.) and Carex spp. communities [8,17,19]. For example, in Montana, it occurred in bog birch/woollyfruit sedge (B. glandulosa/Carex lasiocarpa) shrublands and woollyfruit sedge fens [8]. It occurred in black spruce/northern bog sedge (C. gynocrates) fen forests and in creeping sedge-tufted loosestrife (C. chordorrhiza-Lysimachia thrysiflora) fens in northern Minnesota [17]. In Cheboygan County, Michigan, green-keeled cottongrass occurred in a willow-speckled alder (Salix spp.-Alnus incana subsp. rugosa) shrub bog [11]. Occasionally, green-keeled cottongrass is dominant in wetland communities. Swamp birch/sparseflower sedge (B. pumila/C. tenuiflora)-green-keeled cottongrass shrublands occurred near the bottom of the Miette River valley in Alberta [19].


SPECIES: Eriophorum viridicarinatum
Botanical description:
Green-keeled cottongrass is a perennial, tufted sedge with numerous basal leaves [5,10,13,21,21,23,27,44]. Leaves are 6 to 24 inches (15-61 cm) tall [5,13,21] with blades 0.08 to 0.24 inch (2-6 mm) wide [5,13,14,21,23,27,47]. Culms are 8 to 39 inches (20-100 cm) tall [13,13,14,21,27]. Culms bear 3 or more cymes composed of 3 to 30 drooping spikelets [3,5,13,14,21]. Each flower has 10 or more perianth bristles (strong, stiff, slender hairs [35]) that are 0.6 to 1.2 inch (15-30 mm) long and cottony, becoming more conspicuous as achenes mature [14,27,45]. Achenes are 0.10 to 0.14 inch (2.5-3.5 mm) long [14,21,27]. Green-keeled cottongrass has slender, spreading rhizomes [1,27] and it forms extensive colonies [1]. According to Karlin and Bliss [25], green-keeled cottongrass has a deep root system.

Raunkiaer [42] life form:

Seasonal development:
Location Dates
Illinois flowers: May-August [38]
New England flowers: May-August [18] or June-August [35];
fully developed bristles: 12 June-13 August but as late as 7 September [47]
Pacific Northwest flowers: June-July [22]
Throughout flowers: late May-August [13]

No information was available on this topic for green-keeled cottongrass. Green-keeled cottongrass likely reproduces both by seed and vegetatively by rhizomes. The perianth bristles of Eriophorum spp. often aid in dispersal by wind and probably water (e.g., [32,40,41,53]), so green-keeled cottongrass seeds have the potential for short- or long-distance dispersal via wind and water. No information was available regarding green-keeled cottongrass seeds in seed banks. Tussock cottongrass (E. vaginatum) seeds are often abundant in seed banks and may remain viable for long periods [15,37], which may also be true of green-keeled cottongrass seeds.

Postfire regeneration strategy [48]:
Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil
Geophyte, growing points deep in soil
Ground residual colonizer (on site, initial community)
Initial off-site colonizer (off site, initial community)
Secondary colonizer (on- or off-site seed sources)

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".

Fire adaptations and plant response to fire:
Fire adaptations: As of this writing (2013), no information was available in the published literature regarding the immediate effects of fire on green-keeled cottongrass plants or seeds. Green-keeled cottongrass is likely top-killed by fire; belowground reproductive structures likely survive.

Green-keeled cottongrass exhibits some characteristics that probably allow it to survive or establish after fire. It has rhizomes, so it seems likely that rhizomes below the soil sprout after fire. The seeds have potential for short- to long-distance dispersal via wind and water. It is unclear whether green-keeled cottongrass establishes from the seed bank after fire, and it is unclear whether its seed would survive fire. If green-keeled cottongrass is similar to tussock cottongrass, then it is likely to establish from both on- and off-site seed sources after fire. See the FEIS review of tussock cottongrass for more information.

Plant response to fire: A couple of studies documented green-keeled cottongrass occurring in areas burned by fire [16,20], but to date (2013), a lack of details about fire characteristics, pre- and postfire vegetation, and green-keeled cottongrass response limit inferences that can be made from these studies. The limited information available suggests that green-keeled cottongrass may be common in postfire seral communities, so fire may facilitate green-keeled cottongrass establishment and/or spread. However, it is not clear whether green-keeled cottongrass increases after fire. Gates [16] described an early postfire seral stage of the leatherleaf-spruce (Chamaedaphne calyculata-Picea spp.) association as the green-keeled cottongrass stage. This stage occurred during at least the 2nd postfire year after a severe wildfire in Mud Lake Bog in northern, lower Michigan [16]. In Itasca County, Minnesota, the herbaceous stage of the "spruce swamp burn succession" was characterized as a green-keeled cottongrass-arctic cottongrass-fireweed (E. callitrix-Chamerion angustifolium) association. However, the author stated that this stage was not very "pronounced" and was succeeded "very rapidly" by the leatherleaf-bog Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum) shrub stage. The shrub stage was then followed by the black spruce-tamarack-northern whitecedar swamp stage [20]. This suggested that green-keeled cottongrass might not dominate very long as postfire succession proceeds. However, green-keeled cottongrass occurred in a tamarack swamp 25 years after fire in Cheboygan County, Michigan [11]. No information was available on green-keeled cottongrass density or cover.

Green-keeled cottongrass may benefit from fire that opens the canopy. In Crystal Fen, northeastern Maine, a railroad was constructed through the fen complex in 1893, and fire frequency in the fen was increased by cinder-producing steam locomotives. "Few if any" fires occurred during the 100 years prior to railroad construction. A drainage ditch was excavated in 1937, 44 years later, that lowered the water table. When the steam locomotives were replaced by oil-burning engines around 1950, a major source of ignition at the site was removed and fire frequency was reduced. Aerial photos during 43 years (1938-1981) indicated that open areas of the fen were reduced by half. The number of shrubs and trees, especially conifers, increased on the fen, particularly since fire frequency was reduced. In 1981, green-keeled cottongrass was most common at the ecotone between the open and recently closed portions of the fen [24]. Thus, green-keeled cottongrass likely decreased as fire frequency decreased and trees and shrubs encroached into the fen.

Fuels: As of this writing (2013), no information was available regarding the fuel characteristics of green-keeled cottongrass.

Fire regimes: Green-keeled cottongrass occurs in wetland communities, which may have short to long fire-return intervals. The Fire Regime Table summarizes characteristics of fire regimes for vegetation communities in which green-keeled cottongrass may occur. Find further 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"..

Federal legal status:

Other status:
Information on state- and province-level protection status of plants in the United States and Canada is available at NatureServe.

Other management:
Green-keeled cottongrass is an obligate wetland species. As such, it is presumably dependent upon maintenance of the hydrologic regimes of the wetlands within which it is found. Hydrologic alteration was considered the greatest threat to this species in Washington. Grazing was thought to have minimal impact at a few sites [1]. Further research is needed on all aspects of green-keeled cottongrass.


SPECIES: Eriophorum viridicarinatum
The following table provides fire regime information that may be relevant to green-keeled cottongrass habitats. Find further 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".

Fire regime information on vegetation communities in which green-keeled cottongrass may occur. This information is taken from the LANDFIRE Rapid Assessment Vegetation Models [30], which were developed by local experts using available literature, local data, and/or expert opinion. This table summarizes fire regime characteristics for each plant community listed. The PDF file linked from each plant community name describes the model and synthesizes the knowledge available on vegetation composition, structure, and dynamics in that community. Cells are blank where information is not available in the Rapid Assessment Vegetation Model.
Pacific Northwest Northern and Central Rockies Northern Great Plains
Great Lakes Northeast
Pacific Northwest
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Pacific Northwest Grassland
Marsh Replacement 74% 7    
Mixed 26% 20    
Northern and Central Rockies
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Northern and Central 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 Woodland
Great Plains floodplain Replacement 100% 500    
Northern Great Plains wooded draws and ravines Replacement 38% 45 30 100
Mixed 18% 94    
Surface or low 43% 40 10  
Great Lakes
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Great Lakes Forested
Conifer lowland (embedded in fire-prone ecosystem) 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    
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  
*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 [4,29].


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