Photo credit By Teresa Prendusi, USFS botanist per  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
"When we protect the places where the processes of life can flourish, we strengthen not only the future of medicine, agriculture and industry, but also the essential conditions for peace and prosperity."
~ Harrison Ford
Water Sedge (Carex acutinella, Carex aquatilis ssp. altior, Carex aquatilis ssp. aquatilis, Carex aquatilis var. altior, Carex aquatilis var. substricta, Carex suksdorfii, Carex substricta)
This plant grows in wet to moist prairie, prairie swales, riparian zones, and sedge meadows. It is found in areas of shallow water or by its edge. Sedges have an amazing ability to survive low oxygen environments. When soil is flooded, the soil organisms consume oxygen faster than it can diffuse. This leads to low oxygen and is a defining characteristic of wetlands. Sedges have an amazing ability to grow under low oxygen conditions. They develop air channels in their leaves, stems and roots. called aerenchyma. This structure of air channels allows oxygen from the air to be exchanged with the roots allowing these plants to thrive in places other plants would die due to lack of oxygen.
Water sedge reproduces by seeds but mostly by forming a masses of rhizomes called tiller clumps. Seventy five percent of the biomass produced by sedges occur underground. The dense tiller rhizomes can produce 1,000 to 2,000 shoots peer square meter forming sod and stabilizing riverbanks. As its rhizome system decomposes, it can produce peat. Therefore it has been used to revegetate areas where peat was harvested.
Sedges form the foundation of both aquatic and terrestrial food chains. Their leaves are a source of food for many butterflies caterpillars. Many small mammals such as rabbits, voles, ground squirrels, prairie dogs and muskrats forage sedges. Sedges are of special importance to bears in the spring after their awakening from hibernation when other food sources are scarce. In spring, bears feed on the grass part of the sedges but also the starch rich roots. Moose and elk graze water sedges and it is high in nutrition and in protein content. The seeds are eaten by many birds. It is important cover for birds and small mammals. It is a valuable feeding and breeding ground for water fowl such as geese and ducks
Historically, sedge leaves and roots were used by First Nation people to make rope, baskets, mats and clothing. Most sedges are edible(rhizomes and nutlets)Traditional Edible, Medicinal Uses: Used by Gosiute First Nations, who ate parts of the plant boiled. Alaska First Nations ate crown of stem. Hesquiate Tribe used the plant for basket fibre. (USDA Natural Resouces Conservation Service)
Forage agronomist, Neil G Miller, from Alberta's Agriculture Food and Development Department notes that wetlands and agriculture should coexist. He also recommends including wildlife in lowland development plans for cattle producers. Lowlands, where water loving sedges and grasses thrive, recharge the ground water and provide excellent wild life habitat. When hay is produced from the lowlands, it recycles excess nutrients, causing purer water to flow down stream. . Lowland forage species including sedges like awned sedge, wooly sedge, beaked sedge and water sedge provide excellent hay when harvested at their peak (in Alberta, usually in early July) He notes that 3 to 4 tons per acre of high quality hay per year could be harvested from these areas. He does point out that harvest management is important, because if this type of grass is allowed to mature, it is no better than straw.
Including and utilizing lowland areas with sedges on a property provides life sustaining places for wildlife to thrive. Wetlands also allows groundwater to be recharged. We depend on the recharge of ground water for our wells to provide us with water. Wetlands with sedges and other marshland plants, improves the water quality of streams, lakes and rivers. Wetlands have a vital role in the hydrological cycle. Water evaporates from wetlands, providing clouds that return as rain for our crops. Finally lowlands provides high quality hay when properly managed.
Manitoba is where I was born and where I have spent most of the five and one half decades of my life. I lived on the outskirts of the town of Portage La Prairie at a time when tadpoles and frogs inhabited the ditches and ponds, when there were many Monarch butterflies each summer along with dragon flies and grasshoppers. Redwing blackbirds perched the cattails of the ditches. As children we picked dandelions for bouquets and made wishes before blowing dandelion seed heads. We searched clover for lucky four leaves and rolled on the grass…there was no concern of poisonous herbicides. The grass was thick. Wherever we dug…there were earthworms