Wetland Plants

Wetlands are often part of larger woodland or grassland communities. Trees, grasses and wildflowers border wetlands along with a variety of shrubs, ferns and other plants that grow where the ground is only seasonally saturated. Other plants, called obligate plants, live only in wetlands and some even grow under water. These wetland plants have special ways of living in water.

Submersed Plants

These plants live under water but sunlight still reaches them. They have weak stems and if they are removed from the water they hang limply. They are normally supported by the water all around them and so have no need of strong stems. Their soft, flexible stems allow them to adapt to water movements or changes in water level. Many of these plants, such as coontail or cutleaf waterfoil, have specialized leaf shapes that are very divided. This creates a large surface area for nutrient absorption and photosynthesis. It also minimizes water resistance and potential damage to the leaves.
Sago pondweed
Sago pondweed is a branching underwater plant that grows to a height of more than three feet. The flower parts grow at the tips of the plants. Sago pondweed is a favorite food of ducks and geese that eat its tubers, stems, leaves, and seeds.

Plant Chart

Emergent Plants

Emergent Plants

Emergent plants grow with their roots in water. The tops of the plant stand above water. Cattails are an emergent plant that often forms a dense growth along the edges of wetland ponds or within shallow wetlands. They may grow up to eight feet tall and are easily recognized by their brown spike of flowers or seeds that may be a foot long. Cattails are a favorite plant of muskrats which eat the tubers and use the stiff stalks to build their homes.

>Scouring rush or horsetail

Scouring rush or horsetail has a rough stem which is divided into segments by joint-like rings. The stems may be three feet tall and have a swollen tip that produces spores. Scouring rush has a very high silica content which makes it very rough or scratchy and, as the name implies, can be used to scrub pans and dishes. They grow in a variety of conditions and can be found as emergent plants or on dry, sandy soil near the water.

floating-leaved plants

Another type of emergent plants are floating-leaved plants, such as water lilies or “lily pads.” The large leaves may become homes for aquatic insects and snails, and also serve as resting areas for frogs and dragonflies. They can also change a wetland environment by reducing wave action and “calming” wetland waters. Some examples include the American lotus which has large, fragrant, yellow flowers that may be ten inches wide. The leaves usually stand above the water and may be huge, up to two feet wide. White water lily leaves float on the water surface and are commonly called lily pads. The shiny, green leaves may be a foot in diameter. The white flowers are three to five inches wide with yellow stamens, and begin blooming in June. Because of its pleasant odor, white water lily is sometimes called fragrant water lily.


Tiny floating plants called duckweeds are common in wetlands and are a favorite food of many ducks and geese. Duckweeds are among the smallest flowering plants in the world. Their fine rootlets receive nutrients directly through the water.

Duckweeds form a carpet-like cover over still wetland waters. The small round leaves are attached to one ormore hair-like roots. There are several species of duckweeds, ranging in size from the 2.5 millimeter great duckweed to the one millimeter watermeals.