How to Identify Aquatic Plants


Vegetation exists in almost all aquatic systems that are not tightly managed by human activity. Many plants are part of the natural ecosystem of the water and are beneficial as food sources for fish and other aquatic life. When the population of one plant becomes too great, the whole ecosystem can be damaged. Aquatic weeds will also take over within a short amount of time. Proper identification of aquatic plants is essential to proper management of the water.

Step 1

Contact your local university extension or local environmental office for an aquatic life identification field guide.

Step 2

Identify the nature of the plant--whether it is an algae, floating plant, submerged plant or emergent plant. Algae comes in three varieties: microscopic, mat-forming algae or chara. Look for a green-blue surface scum for microscopic algae. Inspect the edge of the pond for a scummy, mat-like growth of green algae for mat-forming. Look for plants that have leaves around the stem like whorls, that appear to be flowering plants, to identify chara.

Step 3

Try lifting the plant out of the water to see if it is a true floating plant. Floating plants are not attached to the bottom and sometimes have roots hanging freely, according to Texas A & M University.

Step 4

Look under the water surface for submerged plants. Submerged plants grow below the water surface, but sometimes flowers might extend above the surface, according to Michigan State University.

Step 5

Find plants that emerge above the surface with stiff or firm stems to identify emergent plants.

Step 6

Follow the flow chart in your field guide to determine the exact aquatic plant variety after you have determined the general type.

Things You'll Need

  • Field guide


  • Texas A & M University: Aquaplant Plant Identification
  • Mississippi State University Wildlife and Fisheries Extension: Aquatic Weed Control
  • Purdue University: Identifying and Managing Aquatic Vegetation
Keywords: Identify water plants, Aquatic plant classification, Aquatic plant identification

About this Author

Cleveland Van Cecil is a freelancer writer specializing in technology. He has been a freelance writer for three years and has published extensively on, writing articles on subjects as diverse as boat motors and hydroponic gardening. Van Cecil has a Bachelor of Arts in liberal arts from Baldwin-Wallace College.