An up-close picture of a clump of cottongrass, backlit by golden sunlight

Cottongrass thrives on the tundra in the summertime.

NPS Photo

Lumpy mounds of cottongrass that are known as tussocks.

Cottongrass Tussocks

NPS Photo - Kathi Quinn

Grasses and sedges dominate the tundra of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. They play a critical role in the local ecology by supporting the food web and nutrient cycle, while also providing a habitat for small rodents, insects, and birds. Across the state of Alaska, Sedges represent the largest plant genus, with over 150 species, subspecies, and varieties recognized.

Perhaps the most recognizable tundra sedge is the cotton grass, which is named for the fluffy mass that it develops on the end of its tall stalk after fertilization. There are 14 species of cotton grass in the state, which are often difficult to distinguish between due to variations within species and hybridization. Most have round steams, though few have triangular, which are reported to grow between 1 to 2 feet.

The most common is Tall Cotton Grass (Eriophorum angustifolium). These thrive in damp tundra environments and often make up the round tussocks that dot the landscape and make hiking in the summer such a challenge! Though they have a short growing season, grasses and sedges release their seeds in the fall where they will survive under the snow all winter and sprout again during spring thaw.

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