(also spelled ciénaga
) is a wetland system
unique to the American Southwest
. Ciénagas are alkaline
, freshwater, spongy, wet meadows with shallow-gradient, permanently saturated soils in otherwise arid landscapes that often occupied nearly the entire widths of valley bottoms. That description satisfies historic, pre-damaged ciénagas, although few can be described that way now. Incised ciénagas are common today. Ciénagas are usually associated with seeps
, found in canyon headwaters or along margins of streams. Ciénagas often occur because the geomorphology
forces water to the surface, over large areas, not merely through a single pool or channel. In a healthy ciénaga, water slowly migrates through long, wide-scale mats of thick, sponge-like wetland sod
. Ciénaga soils are squishy, permanently saturated, highly organic, black in color or anaerobic. Highly adapted sedges, rushes and reeds
are the dominant plants, with succession plants — Goodding's willow
, Fremont cottonwoods
and scattered Arizona walnuts
— found on drier margins, down-valley in healthy ciénagas where water goes underground or along the banks of incised ciénagas.
Ciénagas are not considered true swamps due to their lack of trees, which will drown in historic ciénagas. However, trees do grow in many damaged or drained ciénagas, making the distinction less clear. Read more...