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Florida’s Native Freshwater Aquatic Plants

Submersed Plants

native Florida tape grass

Tape Grass (Vallisneria american)

A submersed native grass found in many Florida lakes, tape grass typically grows in clearer bodies of water. The Conway Chain in Orlando, Lake Alice in Odessa, and many of Florida’s clear-water rivers and natural springs contain a lot of tape grass. Tape grass in Florida lakes can often hold a lot of bass and bream as well as shad and other bait fish. Tape grass can also grow quite long and can sometimes pose a swimming hazard (though typically not very serious) for swimmers who get spooked when it feels like their legs are getting tangled in the long blades.

native Florida sago pondweed

Sago Pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus)

Sago pondweed is one of Florida’s lakes’ submersed native grasses. I seem to run across this more often in shallower areas (less than 6’ deep) in Florida rivers and lakes that allow it to grow up to the surface of the water. This stuff can make fishing difficult unless using a weedless lure or flipping stick is used.

native Florida bladderwort

Florida Bladderwort (Utricularia floridana)

The Florida yellow bladderwort is a large affixed submersed carnivorous plant. Don’t let the “carnivorous” designation scare you. The bladderwort gets its name from bladder-like traps that capture organisms like water fleas, nematodes, tadpoles, and…mosquito larvae. (Thanks for that last one, bladderwort!) The bladder traps are recognized as one of the most sophisticated structures in the plant kingdom.

native Florida coontail

Coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum)

Coontail gets its name from feather-like leaves that form whorls on the stem resembling a raccoon’s tail. It is a free-floating submersed plant typically found in Central Florida’s ponds, lake and streams.

Emersed Plants

native Florida cat-tails

Cat-Tails (Typha species)

Cat-tails are named after their long, cylinder-shaped flower spikes that are brown in color. Common to Florida’s wetlands, these plants grow out of the water and provide protection and nesting locations for wildlife.

native Florida duck potato

Duck Potato (Sagittaria lancifolia)

Duck potato is named after its swollen underground stems that resemble potatoes. This emersed plant is known for its large lance-shaped leaves and white three-petal flowers extending high above its stems. Duck potato usually grows in Florida’s swamps, ditches, lakes and streams.

native Florida lemon bacopa

Lemon Bacopa (Bacopa caroliniana)

Lemon bacopa is an emersed, creeping herb with small blue petaled flowers, succulent thick leaves and a hairy upper stem. The “lemon” designation comes from the lemon-like smell of its crushed leaves.

native Florida lake hygrophila

Lake Hygrophila (Hygrophila lacustris)

Lake hygrophila is an semi-aquatic herb that is native to Central Florida’s swamps and wet hammocks. Lake hygrophila is characterized by small white flowers and narrow elliptic leaves.

native Florida bur marigold

Bur Marigold (Bidens laevis)

Bur-marigold is an emersed flowering plant from the daisy family. It is typically found in Florida’s marshes.

Free-Floating and Floating-Leaved Plants

native Florida water meal

Water Meal (Wolffia columbiana)

Water meal, the smallest flowering plant on earth, grows in Florida’s rivers, ponds, lakes and sloughs. It is a floating, rootless plant and is hardly visible to the human eye.

native Florida small duckweed

Small Duckweed (Lemna valdiviana)

Small duckweeds are tiny floating green plants with shoe-shaped leaves and a single root hanging underneath. Duckweeds are found in large floating mats in Florida’s still or sluggish waters.

native Florida giant duckweed

Giant Duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza)

Giant duckweed, despite its name, is a very small floating plant found in Florida’s rivers, ponds lakes and sloughs. The giant duckweed features 2-3 rounded leaves that are typically connected, and several roots handing beneath each leaf. The leaves are dark red on their under side surface.

native Florida water lily

Water Lily (Nymphaea aquatica)

The water lily is a common delicately flowering aquatic free-floating plant, common to Florida’s lakes and streams. The water lily is best known for its radially notched leaves and pink or white flowers.

native Florida water shield

Water Shield (Brasenia schreberi)

Watershield, found in Florida’s lakes ponds and slower streams in water up to six feet deep, is a free-flowing plant with long leaf stalks. The stalks extend downward and attach to a sprawling anchored root in the mud bottom. Watershield’s flowers are small and dull purple, extending from the water on a stalk. Its leaves are oval and shield-shaped and the undersides have a gel-like coating.

native Florida American lotus

American Lotus(Nelumbo lutea)

The American lotus is and emersed or free-floating plant found in Florida’s muddy and shallow waters up to six feet deep. The easy-to-spot plant features very large yellow flowers that grow up to six inches wide on a long, stiff stalk. Leaves are circular and lack the radial “pie-piece” shaped cut of the water lily.

Grasses, Sedges and Rushes

native Florida maidencane

Maidencane (Panicum hemitomon)

Maidencane is common to the Florida’s fresh water and dry banks. It has long, narrow stems up to six feet long and is an important provider of local wildlife nesting materials, food and protection.

native Florida Egyptian paspalidium

Egyptian Paspalidium (Paspalidium geminatum)

Egyptian paspalidium blooms year-round and features long leaves on thick tufted stems. It is commonly seen leaning over Florida’s swamps and ponds.

native Florida giant foxtail

Giant Foxtail (Setaria magna)

Giant foxtail grows in deep ditches in Florida’s swamps and wetlands and blooms year-round. It features a large spike on top of a long grass and its seeds provide food for wildlife.

native Florida saw-grass

Saw-Grass (Cladium jamaicense)

Saw-grass is common to Florida’s fresh and brackish water wetlands and provides food and shelter to birds and other wildlife. This large sedge has hollow stems that measure 4-10 feet tall and v-shaped angled leaf blades with small sharp sawteeth and reddish-brown spikelets.

native Florida soft-stem bulrush

Soft-Stem Bulrush (Scirpus validus)

Soft-stem bulrush is sedge with stems up to eight feet tall topped by a hanging cluster of flowers. Growing in marshes, streams and ponds of Florida, soft-stem bulrush provides food for wild birds.

native Florida soft rush

Soft Rush (Juncus effusus)

Soft rush is found in clumps in Florida’s fresh and saltwater wetlands. It has pale green stems from 2-5 feet tall and no leaves. The base of the stem is wrapped in leafy reddish sheaths, and this rush’s clusters of small greenish-brown flowers appear to come out of the side of the stem.

Photos courtesy of: University of Florida Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (click here to visit the site and read more about Florida’s native and invasive aquatic plant life.)

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