How to Identify Wetland Plants


Wetlands such as marshes, bogs, swamps and tidal areas have certain plants that you can normally find growing within them. Botanists consider many of these wetland plants as weeds that have little if any economic value, although the wildlife that lives in these wetlands might argue that point. Plants such as cattail, for example, provide both food and cover for a number of aquatic species. You can identify some of these wetland plant species with a close inspection of their attributes.

Step 1

Look for the large heart-shaped leaves of pickerelweed. These are easy-to-recognize wetland plants that grow close to shore in marshy areas. The leaves also resemble a spade and grow on long stems that keep them out of the water. Observe the spike of purple-blue flowers that emerge in the summer months about a foot above the water.

Step 2

Watch for the unmistakable shape of loosestrife. This is a common wetland plant that you will identify by the purple flowers that grow up and down the top portion of the plant. The stems branch out so that the loosestrife closely resembles the elaborate shape of candelabra. You will notice that loosestrife typically grows in groups of many plants. Look for loosestrife flowers to develop by late June or early July.

Step 3

Recognize cattails by their leaves and the top of the plant. The leaves look like swords and grow out from the plant that can be as tall as 9 feet. The tops of a cattail give the plant its name. They have a cigar shape to them and in the summer and fall are brown and thick, almost feeling like fur formed from the multitude of seeds that comprise it. This area of the cattail turns grayish-white in the winter.

Step 4

Identify reed by its great size and the plume that develops on top as the growing season progresses. Reed can grow 12 feet tall and it will form dense stands that are almost impenetrable in wetland areas. In the summer months and into the autumn reed has a grayish feathery top that waves in the breeze.

Step 5

Discern giant cutgrass by its sharp edged leaves that can cause cuts if you are not careful. Giant cutgrass can make it to 13 feet high and has narrow leaves that are quite thick. If you try to make your way through a stand of cutgrass you need to be aware that the leaves act like saws, ripping at your clothing and skin as you pass.


  • "Weeds"; Alexander Martin: 1987
  • "Flowers";Herbert Zim and Alexander Martin; 1987
Keywords: identify wetland plants, identify cattails, identify purple loosestrife

About this Author

John has written thousands of articles for Demand Studios, Associated Content and The Greyhound Review. A Connecticut native, John has written extensively about sports, fishing, and nature.