Wet Grasslands

Cold Hollow Wet Prairie, Fluvanna County, VA

By Drew Chaney, Center for Urban Habitats

Of the many types of grasslands occurring in the Virginia Piedmont, wet prairies, marshes, and seepages are some of the least common. Ditching and draining for agriculture has destroyed many of them, and since an estimated less than 1 percent of the modern day Virginia Piedmont remains as natural grasslands, these wetlands, which likely always existed predominantly as small-patch communities, are especially rare to find intact today.

These community types are found in a variety of open, wet habitats in the Piedmont such as ditches, low areas of fields and pastures, powerline rights-of-way, etc. These sites receive moisture through either groundwater seepage or collection of rainwater and feature plant communities well adapted to poorly drained soils. Within this broad group, we hypothesize there are a few different types, based on soil chemistry (acidic vs basic) and how the community receives water (groundwater seepage vs rainwater/flooding).

Characteristic graminoids of these communities include various wetland sedges (Carex frankii, C. intumescens, C. lurida, C. squarrosa, C. vulpinoidea), common rush (Juncus effusus), broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus), beaked panic grass (Coleataenia anceps), brownish beaksedge (Rhynchospora capitellata), Virginia wild rye (Elymus virginicus), blunt spikerush (Eleocharis obtusa), rice cutgrass (Leersia oryzoides), and panic grasses (Dichanthelium clandestinum, D. microcarpon, D. scoparium).

Typical forbs include alternate-leaved seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia), boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), rough-stemmed and late goldenrods (Solidago rugosa, S. gigantea), New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum), swamp aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum), hollow joe-pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum), blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), giant sunflower (Helianthus giganteus), square-stemmed monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens), great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), eastern swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata var. pulchra), dwarf St.-John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum), and false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica).

Woody species are often present, though not abundant due to the modern-day human disturbance regimes which keep these spaces open in the absence of periodic fires (wildfires and those set by Indigenous people), and native grazing mammals (elk and bison). Some of the common woody species found include elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), swamp rose (Rosa palustris), smooth alder (Alnus serrulata), winterberry (Ilex verticillata), red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana), fox grape (Vitis labrusca), Pennsylvania blackberry (Rubus pensilvanicus), and winterberry (Ilex verticillata).

Graminoid: a member of the grass (Poaceae), sedge (Cyperaceae) or rush (Juncaceae) families.

Forb: An herbaceous flowering plant that is not a graminoid.