Hello from Cheryl Mayer-Stisser, the rock climbing botanist.
I do my share of tramping about the Black Hills craning my neck on a quest for rocky summits to climb. However, the rest of the time I am peering down at the ground scoping out the greenery as a botanist for the Black Hills National Forest.
Last summer while doing a routine check of a rare plant site, I came across a species of sedge that was not familiar to me. I have learned a lot poking around the Black Hills looking at plants over the past 10 years, but there is always much more to learn...
I took a sample back to the office and studied the “mystery sedge” closer. Using several of the botanical books for our area, I could not come up with an answer that made sense. I decided to dive into books from other regions and the very heavy and ever-daunting Flora of North America. (Putting that back up on the top shelf keeps me in climbing shape all winter!) After toiling through the pages I finally decided that what I had looked like Carex vaginata
(sheathed sedge), a species not previously documented in South Dakota. I decided to contact the nation’s expert on this group of species to see if he would take a look at the specimen. He graciously agreed to check it out and I was delighted to receive his confirmed that it was indeed Carex vaginata. Pretty exciting stuff to a botany geek!!!
This is the southern-most known occurrence of Carex vaginata
in North America. The closest other occurrences to the Black Hills are northwestern Montana and northern Minnesota. Sheathed sedge is more commonly found at northern latitudes in the tundra and boreal forests of Canada and Alaska.
Sedges are often the dominant plants of wetlands. This new Carex vaginata site was found in a particularly interesting wetland type known as a fen. Fens are wetlands that are supplied with a steady source of ground water and have a thick layer of decomposed plant material that has accumulated over a period of thousands of years. For this reason fens are considered non-renewable resources and should be protected from degradation.
Like many of the locally rare species in the Black Hills, sheathed sedge is a northern species that makes its way farther south only in small isolated pockets of habitat that can support it. Before the retreat of the glaciers this type of habitat was likely widespread much farther south than it is now. Carex vaginata
has probably been present in the Black Hills for hundreds of years, but has just not been stumbled upon before.
Although the Black Hills is a very managed and heavily utilized forest it is exciting to be reminded there is still much to learn about this amazing place. Since learning that the sedge had never been discovered in the Black Hills National Forest, I've been amazed and sometimes annoyed at the attention. I like to share botany and science with everyone, but going viral sure can take its toll.
Ok, enough of this botanical jargon, anyone want to go climbing?