Many examples of aquatic plants that flourish in various ecosystems can be found in North America. Not only do these underwater wonders make our waterways more colorful and varied, but they also help keep the water clean. These aquatic plants also form the foundation of complex underwater habitats, providing food and shelter for a wide variety of marine and freshwater animals.
19 Examples of aquatic plants
The following list will explore the fascinating world of some of the aquatic plants in North America, let’s dive in!
1. Water hyacinth
Scientific Name: Eichhornia crassipes
The water hyacinth is an aquatic plant that features bright lavender-blue flowers and glossy, rounded leaves. It’s originally from South America, particularly in the Amazon Basin.
However, it has become invasive in certain areas because of its fast growth and capacity to create thick layers, which disturb the natural ecosystems and block water flow.
Water hyacinth, which is common in ponds, canals, rivers, and ditches, also provides benefits such as water purification and habitat for aquatic creatures.
2. Amphibious yellowcress
Scientific Name: Rorippa amphibia
The amphibious yellowcress is a wild plant that attracts many insects due to its bright yellow flowers and glossy green oval-shaped leaves. It can survive in both underwater and above-water conditions, and you can find it in wetland environments such as ponds, marshes, and riverbanks throughout North America.
This adaptable plant improves the beauty of aquatic environments while offering food and shelter to aquatic creatures.
3. American eelgrass
Scientific Name: Vallisneria americana
The American eelgrass is an important plant that grows underwater and helps to keep aquatic ecosystems healthy. It has long, ribbon-like leaves and small flowers that grow underwater. These plants create meadows that offer a safe haven and nourishment for different marine creatures like fish and invertebrates.
You’ll usually see eelgrass in estuaries and shallow coastal waters along the Gulf coast of North America. It plays an important role in stabilizing sediments, preventing shoreline erosion, and filtering excess nutrients to contribute to water clarity.
4. Grassleaf mud plantain
Scientific Name: Heteranthera dubia
The grassleaf mudplantain is a plant commonly found submerged in freshwater habitats, such as rivers and lakes throughout the southeastern US. This plant is recognized by its grass-like leaves and delicate, yellow flowers that have a short lifespan, blooming in the morning and wilting by evening.
You can find them near the shore up to 5.5 meters deep, and is most prevalent in alkaline waters, providing vital habitat for various aquatic animals.
Scientific Name: Ceratophyllum demersum
The coontail is an aquatic plant that gets its name from its distinctive, bushy shape that looks like a raccoon’s tail. It has feathery, dark green leaves that are arranged in whorls and can be found floating freely in quiet inlets of lakes and slow-moving waters all over North America.
This submerged plant directly absorbs nutrients from the water, which helps preserve the water’s quality, because it doesn’t have true roots.
6. Alligator weed
Scientific Name: Alternanthera philoxeroides
The alligator weed is a tough plant that has sprawling stems, opposite lance-shaped leaves, and small white flowers. Originally from South America, this species has spread to other regions, such as the southern US, where it grows on land in damp soil or on water as dense floating mats.
Alligator weed has some advantages like erosion control and water purification, but its fast growth can cause the displacement of native plants and disturbance of aquatic ecosystems.
7. American lotus
Scientific Name: Nelumbo lutea
The American lotus is a beautiful aquatic wildflower that has large white and creamy-yellow flowers. It also has circular leaves that seem to float on water, making it quite distinctive. It’s a beautiful sight to behold and can be found throughout the eastern and central United States in ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers.
Native Americans have used the seeds and tubers of the plant as a source of food, and the leaves and flowers of the plant serve as a home and shelter for various aquatic animals.
8. Common duckweed
Scientific Name: Lemna minor
You can find the common duckweed, a small free-floating aquatic plant, in ponds, marshes, and slow-moving rivers throughout North America. It can be recognized by its plain, flat, green leaves or fronds that form a dense carpet on the water’s surface.
This small plant is often seen as a trouble, but it actually serves a crucial purpose in maintaining the ecological balance and diversity of native aquatic habitats. It also provides necessary shelter for various aquatic species.
9. Broadleaf arrowhead
Scientific Name: Sagittaria latifolia
In ponds and swamps throughout North America, you may come across broadleaf arrowhead, which is one of the many aquatic plant species. It’s distinguished by its broad, arrowhead-shaped leaves and graceful, white, three-petaled flowers, which bloom from July to September.
Native Americans used to eat the tubers of this plant either raw or cooked for 15 to 20 minutes. The taste of these tubers is similar to that of potatoes and chestnuts.
10. Common spatterdock
Scientific Name: Nuphar advena
The common spatterdock is a species that adds a distinct visual appeal to aquatic environments. This plant is commonly found in North American canals, ditches, and tidal areas of freshwater streams.
It’s recognized by its unique yellow, cup-shaped flowers that bloom from spring to summer and its large, heart-shaped leaves that float on the water’s surface.
11. American White Water-lily
Scientific Name: Nymphaea odorata
The American white water-lily is a well-known aquatic plant that’s admired for its beautiful and elegant white blossoms and large, round leaves that float gracefully on the surface of the water. Additionally, it has a lovely fragrance.
In North America, it’s common to find this species in bodies of water such as ponds, lakes, and other calm water habitats that are typically around 5 or 6 feet deep. The plant arises from the mud at the bottom, but its flowers and leaves can be observed floating on the surface.
12. Broadleaf cattails
Scientific Name: Typha latifolia
With their tall, slender leaves and distinctive brown seed heads in the shape of sausages, broadleaf cattails are easily identified. They live in wetlands, riparian areas, meadows, and freshwater marshes throughout North America, adding to the variety and beauty of these landscapes.
These plants have been used for centuries in various applications, such as making mats and baskets, and they also provide habitat for numerous aquatic creatures.
Scientific Name: Pontederia cordata
Pickerelweed, with its lance-shaped leaves and vibrant violet-blue spikes of flowers, stands out as a resilient denizen of aquatic ecosystems. This hardy plant thrives in the shallow waters of ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams, where its long, slender stems can reach for the surface, often forming dense colonies.
Its adaptability is underscored by its ability to flourish in both sunny and partially shaded areas, showcasing its versatility within its preferred habitat. As an aquatic plant, Pickerelweed not only provides essential cover and breeding grounds for various aquatic organisms but also plays a pivotal role in improving water quality by absorbing excess nutrients, making it an indispensable component of many wetland ecosystems.
Scientific Name: Nasturtium officinale
Watercress is a water-loving plant known for its unique features, including alternate, odd-pinnate leaves with a petiole that can be up to 15 cm long. These leaves do not have serrations and are generally smooth (glabrous).
It thrives in slow-moving streams and freshwater springs where its roots stay submerged in clean water. This plant’s choice of habitat highlights its unique adaptation to aquatic environments, relying on continuous access to fresh water for growth.
15. Parrot feather watermilfoil
Scientific Name: Myriophyllum aquaticum
Parrot feather watermilfoil, identified by its feather-like foliage, is an aquatic plant that thrives in freshwater habitats. Its submerged leaves are divided into multiple segments, resembling the structure of a feather. This plant prefers slow-moving or still waters, such as ponds, lakes, and marshes, where it forms dense mats on the surface.
16. Water lettuce
Scientific Name: Pistia stratiotes
Water lettuce is easily identifiable by its rosette of pale green, velvety leaves that float on the water’s surface. This aquatic plant thrives in slow-moving or still waters like ponds, lakes, and quiet streams, where it forms dense clusters.
Its preference for calm aquatic habitats is due to its adaptation to life in the water. Water lettuce is considered an aquatic plant because it relies on water for support and nutrient absorption through its submerged roots.
Scientific Name: Menyanthes trifoliata
Menyanthes trifoliata, commonly known as bogbean, is recognized by its trifoliate leaves, each composed of three leaflets. This aquatic plant is typically found in wetland habitats such as bogs, fens, and marshes, where it thrives in waterlogged soils. Its adaptation to these aquatic environments is evident through its submerged growth, and it is often rooted in shallow waters.
18. Creeping jenny
Scientific Name: Lysimachia nummularia
Creeping Jenny is identifiable by its trailing stems and small, rounded leaves. This low-growing plant prefers damp, shaded areas, making it a common sight along the edges of streams, in wet woodlands, and even as a ground cover in garden landscapes. Its adaptability to shady, moist habitats is a key characteristic, and it can form dense mats in these environments.
19. Sweet flag
Scientific Name: Acorus calamus
Sweet flag boasts tall, slender leaves and fragrant rhizomes. It thrives in wetland habitats, often found along the fringes of shallow freshwater bodies like ponds, marshes, and slow-flowing streams. Its distinct physical traits align perfectly with its preferred environment. Sweet flag serves a practical purpose by preventing soil erosion in these water-edge locations and providing shelter for various aquatic fauna.