Wetland plants come in many sizes, forms and species. There are the floating and submerged plants of ponds and lakes as well as those that emerge close to shore in a number of wetland habitats. Shrubs and trees that grow on the borders of wetlands or in the midst of them are also wetland plants, as are the flowering plants that shoot up in, or next to, areas where the ground holds water.
One of the most beneficial wetland plants is wild rice, a type of grass that provides a source of food for many kinds of waterfowl. In some parts of the country, conservation groups will plant wild rice in a wetland environment for just this purpose. Distantly related to the rice cultivated for food in many parts of the world, wild rice can grow best in shallow areas of a wetland where the water is clear but the bottom is a little bit muddy.
Certain types of trees will grow and thrive in wetlands, with species such as box elder, eastern hemlock, bald cypress, ironwood and hop hornbeam among them. Some will actually prosper in standing water such as the bald cypress, while others can grow well in the water or close by, like black gum and water tupelo. Others like red maple, water oak and willow oak need soil that is moist to do their best and often grow near swamps and bogs.
Shrubs are important wetland plants, with some shrubs forming thickets near swamps that offer both protection and food for many types of wildlife. Ruffed grouse, songbirds, woodcock, pheasant, cottontail rabbits and white-tailed deer are just some of the animals that benefit from such wetland habitat dominated by shrubs.
These shrubs will not grow to great sizes but their proximity to each other creates a very hard-to-penetrate barrier for predators. Some of these wetland species include laurels, hollies, rhododendron, arrowood, black haw, wax myrtle and bayberry.
Significance of Names
Some wetland plants have names that accent some of their obvious traits. The cardinal flower is a bright red, just like the songbird. Cattails are long and seem to have thick fur on the end when they are in bloom. Clearweed has stems that an individual can see through.
The touch-me-not is an herb that possesses seed capsules that seem to explode once they ripen. Smartweed has bitter leaves that “smart” when a person decides to taste them.
Many wetland plants had a variety of uses to the Native Americans, Common reeds wound up as arrow shafts or mats. Jewelweed sap served as a cure for the effects of poison ivy. The leaves of pokeweed are edible and the berries produced dark purple dyes. The stems of arrowood made excellent arrows. Many types of wetland berry shrubs produced tasty berries such as elderberry and blueberry.