Natural Communities of NH -- Photo Guide

Sedge - rush - heath meadow  (S1)



Sedge - rush - heath meadow
 
is the most widespread community found in the Presidential Range and other high alpine areas of New England, occurring mostly above 4,800 ft. This alpine meadow is dominated by various mixtures of Bigelow’s sedge (Carex bigelowii), highland rush (Juncus trifidus), and dwarf shrubs. The variation in dominant species has alternatively been treated as three separate communities by Bliss (1963), who attributes these differences to soil conditions controlled by moisture and exposure gradients.

Among mesic, well-drained alpine tundra communities, this community is centrally located on an exposure gradient. The most protected areas, with longer-lasting snow cover, are marked by alpine heath snowbanks. At the other extreme, Bigelow’s sedge meadows occur in exposed, high precipitation/fog drip, low snow cover areas. In addition to being environmentally intermediate, the sedge - rush - heath meadow is floristically intermediate between these other two communities as well.

Soils consist of a thin (0–11 cm) loamy sand A horizon with moderate to high amounts of organic matter (26–46%) over sandy loams with considerable gravel and stone content.

Characteristic vegetation: The community contains a characteristic mix of Bigelow’s sedge (Carex bigelowii), highland rush (Juncus trifidus), and dwarfed heath shrubs such as alpine bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), mountain cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), and dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana). Mountain sandwort (Minuartia groenlandica) is frequent, but only occurs in low abundance. Occasional species include tussock bulrush (Trichophorum cespitosum), boreal bentgrass (Agrostis mertensii), diapensia (Diapensia lapponica), mountain firmoss (Huperzia appalachiana), and alpine sweet grass (Hierochloe alpina). Lapland rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) is rare. Prominent lichens include Cetraria islandica, Cladina rangiferina, and Cladonia uncialis, and Polytrichum piliferum is a common moss. Crowberries (Empetrum spp.), balsam fir (Abies balsamea), and heartleaf birch (Betula cordifolia) are notably sparse or absent. 

Variants: Two distinct variants are described:

1. Heath - rush variant (typic)
   This is the more common variant, and it occurs at lower elevations than the sedge - heath - rush variant. Heath plants and highland rush dominate most examples, with lesser amounts of Bigelow's sedge present. This variant is transitional to, but considered distinct from, subalpine dwarf shrubland (a community of lower elevations that lacks Bigelow's sedge).

2. Sedge - heath - rush variant
   This Bigelow’s sedge dominated variant is uncommon. Vascular plant cover is relatively low, while lichen, bare soil, and exposed rock cover are relatively high. It generally occurs at higher elevations than the other variant. Bigelow's sedge meadow, a community similar to this variant, differs by the dominance of Bigelow’s sedge to the near exclusion of other species.


Good examples of this community occur in the Presidential Range and on Franconia Ridge.

Sedge - rush - heath meadows frequently occur along with other alpine communities as part of a larger alpine tundra system.

sedge - rush - heath meadow in the Alpine Garden on Mt. Washington (photo by Dan Sperduto for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)
sedge - rush - heath meadow in the Alpine Garden on Mt. Washington (photo by Dan Sperduto)

Sedge - rush - heath meadow on Franconia Ridge (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)
Sedge - rush - heath meadow (heath - rush variant) on Franconia Ridge (photo by Ben Kimball)

Sedge - rush - heath meadow on Mt. Eisenhower (photo by Ben Kimball for the NH Natural Heritage Bureau)
Sedge - rush - heath meadow (heath - rush variant) on Mt. Eisenhower (photo by Ben Kimball)

Sedge - rush - heath meadow (heath - rush variant) on Mt. Washington (photo by Dan Sperduto)
sedge - rush - heath meadow (heath - rush variant) on Mt. Washington (photo by Dan Sperduto)

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