Identifying Aquatic Plants

This video will look at the four categories of pond plants, and some of the most common aquatic plants that are found in Pennsylvania.
Identifying Aquatic Plants - Videos

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- [Susan] Today I'm going to be talking about identifying aquatic plants.

Aquatic plants are an integral part of the pond ecosystem.

An ideal ratio is to have 20 to 30% coverage of plants in your pond to promote habitat and maintain a healthy balance between plants and aquatic life like turtles and frogs.

It is necessary to know what kinds of plants are in your pond if you plan to control them based on the pond's intended use.

This video will discuss the main types of aquatic plants and give several examples of each.

The plants can be categorized into four main types.

Submerged plants, emergent plants, floating plants, and algae.

Let's take a look at each of these in more detail.

Submerged plants are those that are rooted on the bottom of the pond.

Ponds with shallower water offer the best growing conditions for these types of plants as sunlight can reach the pond bottom.

Many times these plants will begin on the bottom of the pond and can often grow long enough where they may stick out of or float on top of the water.

Some examples of common submerged plants are elodea and naiad.

Elodea, the top picture, has a thick green stem and dense leaves, and is one of the most common plants in Pennsylvania ponds.

It's a beneficial plant for habitat and wildlife.

Naiad, the bottom picture, has narrow, toothed leaves and is very brittle.

It provides food for fish and water fowl.

Emergent plants are those that can be found on the banks or shallow areas of the pond and grow in the water or right along the water's edge.

Cattails in the top picture and burr-reed below are two very common emergent aquatic plants that both do a good job of helping to control erosion along bank areas and limiting sediment runoff into the pond.

Cattails are also able to take up nutrients and metals from the water, acting as a natural water filter.

Floating aquatic plants are those that float on the water's surface with their roots dangling below them.

Many of these plants prefer water that is very still.

Duckweed, seen in the top picture, is a very tiny floating plant that can grow to look like a thick carpet covering an entire pond.

It can be a great source of food for water fowl.

Water lily, pictured below, is a floating plant having very large leaves that can be nearly 12 inches wide.

It provides an ideal habitat for fish and aquatic insects.

Algae is the final category of aquatic plants and to many pond owners the most troublesome.

Algae can present itself in several ways in the pond, either as the microscopic planktonic algae or as an actual leafy plant that can be seen growing in the pond.

Planktonic algae are the base of a pond food chain and provide food for fish and other aquatic life.

This tiny algae can give the water a brownish or greenish murky appearance and can appear suddenly in a pond under ideal conditions of nutrients and sunlight.

This rapid appearance is called an algae bloom.

Filamentous algae, a dark green plant that resembles stringy hair, is a very common problem in Pennsylvania ponds.

This type of algae actually begins growing on the bottom and then floats to the surface, forming thick mats and even gas bubbles.

Its slimy appearance is aesthetically unpleasing to many pond owners, but it is an important food source for small fish.

Under some conditions during summer months, algae can produce toxins known as harmful algal blooms or HABs.

These toxic blooms can produce dangers to animals or people that might come in contact with the water.

The look of a HAB can best be described as looking like pea soup or paint spilled on the water.

If you suspect a HAB in your pond, it is best to avoid the water and have the algae properly identified.

Finally, some of the plants that you might find in Pennsylvania ponds are considered invasive species that out-compete our native plants and require special attention to eliminate them.

The emergent plant purple loosestrife can choke out waterways and is identified by its showy, purple flower.

A plant commonly found in small, self-contained water gardens, parrotfeather, a floating plant, can cause problems when it is accidentally introduced to larger, natural ponds.

There are many more types of aquatic plants common to Pennsylvania besides the ones that were mentioned in this video.

Extension can be a resource for helping to identify plants in your pond.

The website offers fact sheets, online courses, and publications, and extension educators can help with identification as well.

If you are sending a digital picture to your local extension educator to be identified, it's best to take a close-up picture of the plant in front of a light-colored background as well as a wide view of the plant as it grows in the pond.

We hope that this video is helpful to you.

By learning to identify the types of aquatic plants that are in your pond, it can help you to better manage them and get the maximum enjoyment and benefit from your pond habitat.

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