Home > About meadows > Wildlife > Plant communities

Plant communities

Species rich meadow
The plant communities can be seen to change as the hydrological gradient changes.

The flowers and grasses found in meadows can tell you a lot about the site history, management, type and fertility of soil and levels of water on the site. For example, at North Meadow, Crickdale (photo), the plant communities can be seen to change as the hydrological gradient changes.

Species with similar soil moisture and fertility requirements tend to grow together and form recognisable plant communities. The most typical community of moist, but not waterlogged, soils on floodplains is Sanguisorba officinalis - Alopecurus pratensis (great burnet-meadow foxtail) grassland (MG4 of the National Vegetation Classification (NVC; Rodwell, 1992). Where the water table is kept higher in the summer (for example on groundwater fed systems) the Cynosurus cristatus - Caltha palustris (crested dog’s tail-marsh marigold) grassland (MG8 of the NVC) replaces the MG4 whilst on more freely drained soils, MG5; Cynosurus cristatus - Centaurea nigra (crested dog’s tail-common knapweed) grassland replaces the MG4. Many sites will support a range of plant communities; as the topography and soil nutrient availability vary, so the plant communities will change.

Our plant grid provide more information about different plant communities and their water and nutrient requirements.

Clarifying the crested dog's tail - marsh marigold (MG8) floodplain meadow plant community and further defining the great burnet (MG4) floodplain meadow plant community

Thanks in part to funding from the Environment Agency, The Floodplain Meadows Partnership has been carrying out a project to more clearly define the wetter plant community known as the Cynosurus cristatus - Caltha palustris (crested dog’s tail-marsh marigold) grassland (MG8 of the NVC). This project has now been completed and the report can be downloaded using the following link:

JP021 edition 1 - A review of the NVC for the Calthion group of plant communities


A summary of the revisions and the new constancy tables are below:

Burnet floodplain meadow Alopecurus pratensis-Sanguisorba officinalis grassland (MG4) Classic, species-rich vegetation on drier soils of intermediate fertility. Expanded from existing NVC community. MG4 constancy table.

Ryegrass pasture Lolium perenne-Cynosurus cristatus grassland (MG6). This is a widely occurring community, but a species-rich variant occurs on damp soils of moderately high fertility. A new Meadowsweet sub-community Alopecurus pratensis-Sanguisorba officinalis grassland Agrostis stolonifera sub-community (MG6d) has been added to the existing MG6 of the NVC. MG6 constancy table.

Kingcup-carnation sedge meadow Cynosurus cristatus-Carex panicea-Caltha palustris meadow (MG8). A species-rich community on low-fertility sites where the water table is constantly close to the surface. The plant community definition has been expanded, with four new sub-communities, one of which is close to the original MG8 community of the NVC. MG8 constancy table.

Foxtail plash Agrostis stolonifera-Alopecurus geniculatus grassland (MG13). Areas of prolonged spring flooding and poor drainage - no change. MG13 constancy table.

Sedge lawn Carex nigra-Agrostis stolonifera-Senecio aquaticus grassland (MG14). This community occurs throughout floodplains, typically rich in marsh-marigold (kingcup) and small sedge species. It is an expanded version of the creeping bent-small sedge community originally described by Cox and Leach (1995). Now with two sub-communities. MG14 constancy table.

Cuckooflower grassland Alopecurus pratensis-Poa trivialis-Cardamine pratensis grassland (MG15p) provisional. A species-poor community of damp sites with good restoration potential. It has been described as provisional new community with two sub-communities, as further work is required to more fully define where this community sits. MG15 constancy table.