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SPECIES:  Carex bigelowii
Bigelow's sedge. Wikimedia Commons image by John Maunder.


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: [].
Revisions: Images were added on 21 September 2018. ABBREVIATION: CARBIG SYNONYMS: Carex bigelowii Torr. subsp. bigelowii Carex bigelowii Torr. subsp. hyperborea (Drej.) Bocher [17,20] Carex consimilis Holm Carex rigida Good Carex concolor Mack NRCS PLANT CODE: CABI5 COMMON NAMES: Bigelow's sedge TAXONOMY: The scientific name of Bigelow's sedge is Carex bigelowii Torr. It is in the section Acutae of the family Cyperaceae [1,12,16,20,32]. Bigelow's sedge hybridizes with spruce muskeg sedge (C. lugens) and water sedge (C. aquatilis var. stans) [37]. LIFE FORM: Graminoid FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Carex bigelowii
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Bigelow's 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 Colorado [8,9,16,18,40].
Distribution of Bigelow's sedge. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC. [2018, September 19] [36].
   FRES11  Spruce - fir
   FRES19  Aspen - birch
   FRES23  Fir - spruce
   FRES28  Western hardwoods
   FRES37  Mountain meadows
   FRES41  Wet grasslands
   FRES44  Alpine

     AK  CO  CT  ID  ME  MA  MT  NH  NY  UT
     VT  WY  AB  BC  LB  MB  NB  NF  NT  NS
     ON  PQ  SK  YT

    8  Northern Rocky Mountains
    9  Middle Rocky Mountains
   11  Southern Rocky Mountains

   K015  Western spruce - fir forest
   K052  Alpine meadows and barrens
   K094  Conifer bog
   K096  Northeastern spruce - fir forest
   K108  Northern hardwoods - spruce forest

     5  Balsam fir
    12  Black spruce
    13  Black spruce - tamarack
    16  Aspen
    18  Paper birch
    38  Tamarack
   107  White spruce
   201  White spruce
   202  White spruce - paper birch
   203  Balsam poplar
   204  Black spruce
   206  Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir
   217  Aspen
   251  White spruce - aspen
   252  Paper birch
   253  Black spruce - white spruce
   254  Black spruce - paper birch

Throughout its range, Bigelow's 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's 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's sedge usually does not occur in enough abundance to be considered an important forage plant [16]. Sheep and caribou, however, are known to graze it, primarily in the spring and early summer [19]. PALATABILITY: Palatability of Bigelow's sedge is excellent early in the growing season and fair late in the summer [16]. NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Wein and Bliss [39] 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: NO-ENTRY VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: Bigelow's sedge has shown good potential for use in revegetation programs, particularly in northern regions. In the western Canadian arctic, growth of Bigelow's sedge occurred within 2 months on sites damaged by crude oil spills [4]. It has also been locally successful at naturally colonizing borrow pits along the Dempster Highway in northwestern Canada [21], and is present on sites that are moderately affected by natural sulfur pollution in the Smoking Hills, Canada [13]. The presence of Bigelow's sedge seed in soil banks allowed for natural revegetation of bulldozed sites in Alaskan tussock tundra [15]. Bigelow's sedge also appears to be highly resistant to trampling in alpine regions of the Adirondacks [22]. The extensive, interconnected rhizome system formed by Bigelow's sedge may help to prevent soil erosion. OTHER USES AND VALUES: NO-ENTRY OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Bigelow's 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 [19]. Bigelow's 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 [15]. Seeding of natural or exotic grasses on disturbed tundra sites may inhibit the growth of Bigelow's sedge from the seed bank [6].


SPECIES: Carex bigelowii
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Bigelow's sedge is a long-lived perennial, exhibiting a more or less uniform graminoid growth form [2]. 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's sedge is strongly stoloniferous [16]. 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 [35]. Rooting depth is generally to mineral soil [19,33]. In the arctic, distinguishing between Bigelow's sedge and water sedge (C. aquatilis var. aquatilis and var. stans) based on morphological differentiation is very difficult [35]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM: Phanerophyte Chamaephyte Cryptophyte (Geophyte) REGENERATION PROCESSES: Bigelow's sedge reproduces predominantly by vegetative means, forming extensive clones of interconnected rhizomes [5]. 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 indefinite 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's sedge that have persistent connections between ramets generally have very low mortality rates in the youngest age classes. However, young Bigelow's sedge tillers may have a high mortality rate when compared to other clonal species [5]. Bigelow's sedge also reproduces sexually, producing at least some viable seed [5]. Shoots flower after 2 years of age and are wind pollinated [35]. Well-developed dormancy mechanisms allow for the incorporation of Bigelow's sedge seed into the buried seed pool [15]. Seeds buried up to 200 years may germinate, but seedlings of younger seeds (buried 1 to 20 years) are more vigorous [37]. Seedling recruitment after disturbance is 8 to 12 times higher on organic soil than on mineral soil [15]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Bigelow's sedge is found in a wide range of habitats including open rocky sites [16,31], gravel slopes [16], 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 [16]. 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 mosses. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Bigelow's sedge colonizes disturbed sites through seed stored in the soil [15]. It may also persist throughout successional stages and can be present in climax tundra or meadow vegetation [38]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Bigelow's sedge flowers from July to September depending on location [12,27,32].


SPECIES: Carex bigelowii
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Bigelow's 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's sedge may also sprout from remaining aboveground parts and rhizomes following low-severity fires [29]. 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) FIRE REGIMES: Additional information on Bigelow's 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's sedge. High-severity fires may also kill belowground vegetative portions. PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: Bigelow's 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 [29]. Bigelow's 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 [41]. 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, Alaska [28]: 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 [7] found that Bigelow's sedge leaf nitrogen and phosphorous concentrations increased by 29 percent and 38 percent, respectively, within 12 months following fire. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Carex bigelowii
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