Nothing beats relaxing by a tranquil backyard pond on a warm summer day. Ponds are an extension of our gardening space that can be designed and planted just like the rest of the garden. In fact, pond plants can help purify water, reduce erosion and provide food and shelter for fish. No matter what size pond you have, the right plants can enhance its health and beauty.
Plants with floating parts help shade the pond's surface and reduce evaporation. Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) Is a free floating plant that lives on the water's surface and dangles filament-like roots below. Its rosettes of gray-green, crinkled leaves resemble miniature heads of lettuce. This attractive, common pond plant grows rapidly, and thrives on very little care. However, it can quickly take over a pond if not regularly controlled. Water lettuce is considered a pest species, and is illegal to possess in the state of Texas. This plant should never be released into any natural water bodies, but is appropriate for tub gardens and maintained backyard ponds.
Water lilies (Nymphea spp.) are perhaps the most famous pond plant, cultivated for their round floating pads and beautiful flowers. There are tropical varieties, which can only survive in frost-free areas, and temperate varieties, which lie dormant over winter. Some water lilies are even native to the United States. These plants grow from rhizomes buried in the muck of natural pond bottoms or in soil-filled pots, anchored to pond liners. They provide shade, cover and food for fish, but can spread to cover large areas. Water lilies produce exquisite flowers with little care, but they do require periodic maintenance to keep them in bounds.
Submerged plants increase pond oxygen levels, benefiting fish. American waterweed (Elodea canadensis) is a submerged plant, native to North America, which is commonly used in aquariums. It produces succulent, branched stems, which are covered with whorls of leaves in sets of three. This common native plant produces food for fish and aquatic insects and helps maintain a favorable balance of oxygen in ponds. It should not be confused with its relative, Brazillian elodea, which is a noxious weed.
Common bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris) is carnivorous plant, native to North America, which grows entirely submerged, floating near the bottoms of ponds. The plant has many slender branches studded with air filled bladders, which are actually traps for small aquatic animals. A flap snaps shut when an aquatic animal triggers tiny hairs on the bladder's opening. These plants produce pretty yellow snapdragon-like flowers, held above the pond's surface in summer.
Emergent plant stabilize pond margins and provide food and shelter for wildlife. Cattails (Typha spp.), which are native to North America, Europe, Asia and Africa, are among the most common emergent pond plants. These dense grass like plants serve as an important food source for both aquatic and terrestrial animals. Typically, dense stands of cattails can filter runoff and reduce erosion, significantly improving water quality. They are very easy to establish at pond margins and require little to no care.
Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) is a tall sedge native to Europe and Africa, which the source of the parchment paper of the same name. It produces feathery pompoms of leaves on top of stiff, upright stems. Papyrus can grow to heights of up to 8 feet, but more manageable dwarf varieties only grow to about 3 feet tall. Papyrus stabilizes pond banks and adds interest with its attractive form. It is generally care free and can tolerate light frost. In cold climates, the rhizomes can be dug up and overwintered in a tub of water in a frost free location.