This system is restricted to sites from lower montane to subalpine elevations where finely textured soils, snow deposition, or windswept conditions limit tree establishment. Many occurrences are small patches, and are often found in mosaics within woodlands, dense shrublands, or just below alpine communities. Elevations range from 600 to2,011 meters (2,000-6,600 feet) in the northern Rocky Mountains and up to 2,286-2,682 meters (7,500-8,800 feet) in the mountains of southwestern Montana. This system occurs on gentle to moderate-gradient slopes and in relatively moist habitats. Soils are typically seasonally moist to saturated in the spring, but dry out later in the growing season. At montane elevations, soils are usually clays or silt loams, and some occurrences may have inclusions of hydric soils in low, depressional areas. At subalpine elevations, soils are derived a variety of parent materials, and are usually rocky or gravelly with good aeration and drainage, but with a well developed organic layer. Some occurrences are more heavily dominated by grasses, while others are more dominated by forbs. Common grasses include tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia caespitosa), showy oniongrass (Melica spectabilis), mountain brome (Bromus carinatus), blue wildrye (Elymus glaucus), awned sedge (Carex atherodes), and small wing sedge (Carex microptera). Forb dominated meadows usually comprise a wide species diversity which differs from montane to subalpine elevations. Shrubs such as shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda) and snowberry (Symphoricarpos species) are occasional but not abundant. This system differs from the Rocky Mountain Alpine Montane Wet Meadow system in that it soils dry out by mid-summer.
Some occurrences are more heavily dominated by grasses, while others are more dominated by forbs, Tall forb dominated mesic meadows are typically comprised of a wide diversity of genera and contribute more to overall herbaceous cover than graminoids. At montane elevations, important flowering forbs include Siberian chives (Allium schoenoprasum), meadow arnica (Arnica chamissonis), common camas (Camassia quamash), aspen daisy (Erigeron speciosus), aster (Eucephalus and Symphyotrichum species), bluebells (Mertensia species), fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium), stickseed (Hackelia species), small flowered penstemon (Penstemon procerus), large leaved avens (Geum macrophyllum), harebells (Campanula rotundifolia), Canadian goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), elegant death camas (Zigadenus elegans), western meadowrue (Thalictrum occidentale), tall groundsel (Senecio hydrophiloides) and tall ragwort (Senecio serra). Common camas (Camassia quamash) dominates some mesic meadows in western Montana and east of the Continental Divide in northwestern Montana. These meadows were important food gathering sites for indigenous people and were intensively managed for food production.
At subalpine elevations, arrowleaf groundsel (Senecio triangularis), subalpine wandering daisy (Erigeron peregrinus), glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum), lovage (Ligusticum species), green false hellebore (Veratrum viride) and valerian (Valeriana species) become a more significant component of the forb layer. Burrowing mammals can increase the forb diversity. Broad leaf deciduous shrubs such as shrubby cinquefoil and snowberry are occasional but not abundant.
Under natural disturbance regimes at montane elevations, early successional stages may be dominated by fireweed, horsemint (Agastache urticifolia), Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and other forbs, and small amounts of mesic grasses such as mountain brome (Bromus carinatus) and tufted hairgrass (Deschamspia cespitosa).
Graminoid-dominated meadows usually feature taxa with relatively broad and soft blades such as tufted hairgrass, mountain brome, showy oniongrass, blue wildrye, awned sedge, slender beaked sedge (Carex athrostachya), small wing sedge, Hood’s sedge (Carex hoodii), Raynold’s sedge (Carex raynoldsonii), and chamisso sedge (Carex pachystachya). Bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis) may be present in some occurrences. At subalpine elevations, tufted hairgrass, alpine timothy (Phleum alpinum), poverty oatgrass (Danthonia intermedia) and purple mountain hairgrass (Vahlodea atropurpurea) become more common components of the graminoid layer. In the Beaverhead Mountains, some occurrences contain Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis) (Cooper et al, 1997).
Herbaceous mesic meadows that have experienced a disturbance like intensive grazing are often susceptible to invasive non-native vegetation. Typically, disturbed meadows contain Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), smooth brome (Bromus inermis) and common timothy (Phleum pratense) at lower to montane elevations. Common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) can replace native forb diversity in areas of continued disturbance. Noxious species such as meadow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum), orange hawkweed (Hieracium auranticum), tall meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris), and ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) are highly invasive and pose a real threat to the structure and diversity of these meadows.
In areas of moderate disturbance, this system can be restored by eliminating or limiting grazing for two to three seasons. Areas that contain noxious species must be managed for these species prior to and after restoration practices.
Tufted hairgrass has been successfully established by seeding on higher elevation disturbances such as mined lands. Seeds from locally adapted populations have been most successful (Chambers and others 1990). For disturbances on well-developed soils containing minimum amounts of toxic substances, seeds can be selected from a broad range of relatively well-adapted populations. On sites with limiting soil characteristics, selection from metal and/or acid tolerant populations is more successful (Brown and Chambers 1990). Late fall seeding is most successful; seedling establishment is improved if seeds are exposed to cold dormancy over winter (Chambers and others 1987). Tufted hairgrass has high potential for long term revegetation due to its soil stabilization characteristics, persistence, and ability to reproduce on harsh sites at high elevations (Brown and others 1988; Chambers and others 1990).
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