Walking along the shorelines of a lake or ocean, you'll often see some familiar plants growing in the murky, muddy area where land meets water. What you might not realize is the diversity of the species you're actually encountering--what might look like just another cattail might actually be an invasive species threatening the life of the native varieties. The same can be true for the beautiful, elegant water lilies. Like terrestrial plants, aquatic plants deserve a closer look.
Cattails are one of the most common--and most noticeable--plants found at the edges of ponds and lakes. These tall plants with their distinctive brown, velvet-like flowers are one of the most easily recognizable, even though all cattails are not created equal. There are actually two common types of cattails--the good cattails are native to the United States, can grow up to 10 feet tall and have broader leaves than their non-native counterparts. The narrower, shorter cattails have the same distinctive flower, but are an invasive species (invasive species take valuable resources from and stunt the growth of native species.)
Young cattails are edible, and have also been used as fuel. Their name, in fact, comes from the Greek typhe, which refers to the smoky fire that is created when they are burned. Their narrow leaves are often used as floor rushes or as material for thatched roofs, and can also be made into rope.
A hardy plant, cattails are frequently introduced to endangered wetlands to help conserve and restore balance to such areas.
Water lilies are native to the waters of the northeastern United States, but have since spread to lakes and ponds across the country. Their flat, circular leaves float on the water's surface in dense colonies that can completely take over waters up to 6 feet deep. Flowers are most commonly white or pink, and often regarded as beautiful additions to small lakes and ponds. However, the water lily is an aggressive species, and can take over large areas. Water beneath the leaves can become stagnant, strangling plant and animal life that might otherwise thrive in the waters.
The leaves of the water lily can be used as compresses and poultices, and were valued for their healing properties by the Native Americans. The seeds and roots of the lily were cooked and eaten like a vegetable, and the plant can also be a food source for wildlife.
They will spread uncontrollably, and when introduced to an area must be kept under control by harvesting and regularly cutting out groups of lilies.
While at first glance all seaweed might look pretty similar, there are actually more than 6,000 species of seaweed in the world. They're all similar in the fact that they grow along the shorelines of water, oftentimes floating in and covering beaches and rocks. There are three main colors for seaweed: green seaweed tends to be found in the shallowest of areas, close to the surface of the water. Brown seaweeds are found in deeper waters, while red seaweed is most often found in shady areas like rock pools.
Seaweed is closely related to algae, with the main difference being that seaweed grows only in the world's oceans.
Most seaweed is edible, and is a staple in the diet of many cultures in Asia and throughout the Pacific. It's also valuable as an ingredient in many household items, including lipstick and other cosmetics, toothpaste and even salad dressing.