Natural Wild Water Plants
Aquatic plants hold a fascination for gardeners, whether they have a
large pond or a bird bath. Aquatic plants can be divided into (1) algae
or (2) rooted water plants. Algae are simple plants that lack true roots,
leaves, or flowers. They may occur as single cells, colonies, filaments,
or advanced forms (muskgrasses or stoneworts), growing to a height of 2
to 3 feet and resembling rooted plants.
Algae may occur as free-floating
surface scums; dense, surface- or bottom-tangled mats; attached on rooted
plants or submerged objects; or motile, individual forms dispersed throughout
the water. Since these are primitive, nonflowering plants, few homeowners
would intentionally introduce them into garden ponds. However, certain
algal types require no conscious introduction, as birds frequently do that
job. Standing water outdoors will always contain algae, and small garden
ponds with high nutrient inputs may become overgrown with algae.
Control algae by introducing algae-eating fish and shading
the surface of the water with plants.
Rooted water plants have true stems, roots, leaves, and flowers. They
may be EMERGENTS, such as cattails, with most of their leaves, stems, and
flowering parts exposed to air; FLOATING LEAF PLANTS with only the leaves
on the surface; or SUBMERGED with the leaves, stems, and reproductive structures
Emergent plants, sometimes called marsh plants, grow above the water
surface in shallow, shoreline areas of lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers.
Although major portions of the plants are fully exposed to air, they are
rooted in bottom sediments. Common emergents found in some waters include
cattail, arrowhead, pickerelweed, bulrush, rushes, bur reed, and smartweed.
Certain of these, such as cattail and arrowhead or duck potato, produce
edible plant materials that were an important food source to native Americans
and are still consumed today. Cattail flower spikes and leaves are dried
and used in decorations. Rushes and reeds are woven into baskets and mats.
Many of these are an important source of cover and food for fish and wildlife.
When incorporating emergents into your garden pond, you need to make sure
plant heights and growth forms are appropriate for the size of your pond.
In most cases, you will have to manually remove some plants during each
growing season to insure that one or two species do not overpopulate your
Floating leaf plants may be rooted in the bottom muds or be unattached
and float freely on the surface, such as duckweed and water meal. Plants
with the smallest and largest leaves are in this group. Wolffia or water
meal has a single, oval-shaped leaf that is less than 1/16 of an inch in
The lotus (Nelumbo lutea) has round leaves that exceed 24 inches
in diameter. The tiny, floating plants can reproduce rapidly under favorable
conditions and blanket a pond with a green scum. Lotus and waterlilies
(floating leaf plants) produce some of the showiest flowers of the plant
world. The white water lily (Nymphaea odorata) with fragrant, white or
pink flowers is a favorite ornamental in garden ponds.
Submerged plants (water milfoil, elodea, watercress, wild celery, and
pond weed) grow with most of their parts below the water surface although
flowers and seed stalks may, at certain times of the year, extend above
the surface to insure pollination by wind and insects. Since these plants
depend on the water for support, they are limp and unable to support themselves
in an upright position when removed from water.
Submergent water plants are important sources of food and cover
to fish and wildlife. Wild celery, Vallisneria americana,
is a valuable food source for waterfowl and is often planted on
wildlife refuges. Frogbit or American elodea (Elodea canadensis)
and Brazilian elodea (Egeria densa) are commonly sold as aquarium plants.
Certain submergents, such as watermilfoil and hydrilla, can form dense,
impenetrable, weed beds throughout lakes and ponds, reducing water movement,
causing siltation, depleting dissolved oxygen, and changing the whole character
of an aquatic ecosystem. If submergents become established in your garden
pond and you are not able to adequately remove them through manual techniques,
you may have to drain the pond and allow these plants to dry to a powder.
These plants spread by fragmentation, and one small fragment can reintroduce
the plant into your pond.