Wetland plants or hydrophytes are a group of flora adapted to thrive in semi-aquatic or submerged habitats. Their ingenious morphological features let them live and flourish in the flooded landscape. Many landscape designers include them in backyard ponds. Considering the current threats of natural forces and human activities, ecologists also use hardy hydrophytic plants in environmental restoration projects. Eager to know more about these peculiar greenies? The wonders of wetland nature await you!
What Is Wetland Vegetation?
Wetlands occupy a large chunk of the planet's terrestrial biome. This unique habitat, which lies in the transition between the land and aquatic ecosystem, might seem an unlikely place to call home, but it has many intriguing inhabitants. The acidic or alkaline soils and poor oxygen levels don't threaten these plants' well-being. On the contrary, wetland vegetation flourishes in its habitat. Even when the sea is nearby, life finds a way and develops a taste for salt.
Which Type of Plants Are Characteristic of Wetlands?
Diverse botanic life has successfully populated the wetlands. Hydrophytes are either floating, submerged, or anchored to the oxygen-devoid soil. They possess flat leaves or tiny air spaces in the cells to stay afloat and special air channels that deliver oxygen to the roots because they lack a cuticle to absorb water directly.
What Is the Most Common Plant in Wetlands?
The wetland's most common and distinguishable plant is likely the cattail (reed). However, other vegetation types, such as flowering trees, low-lying bushes, flowering plants, grasses, grass-like perennials, and sedges, can also be found in the wetlands.
List of Wetland Plants
The list of wetland flora species is so long that we had to split it into subsections for you! Starting from the largest to the smallest, we proudly present to you the full list of common marsh plants:
Trees are common wetland plants (and one might be in your backyard!).
Sweet Bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)
Sprawling across the Atlantic US coast, this semi-evergreen wetland tree boasts fragrant cream-white flowers. It is often grown as a shade tree in the backyard, near artificial ponds or streams.
Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrata)
Named after its disproportionately engulfing cup, this US local thrives along the southeastern coast. Due to its low-maintenance, resistance to many pests, and tolerance to boggy soils, it is considered an all-time gardener's favorite.
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Red maple is a wetland tree species well-adapted to acidic, moist soils. It can also thrive in upland environments like its other leafy relatives. This tree can be widely used in carpentry and can also be grown for aesthetic purposes (which we highly recommend!).
Swamp Tupelo (Nyssa biflora)
The swampy areas and the wetlands of the US are dotted with swamp tupelo, a tree that loves growing in heavy clay soils and muddy regions. This tree is excellent for gardens or property that constantly experiences flooding. It can rise to 98 feet (30 meters) when the right growing conditions are met. Impressive, right?
Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides)
Wetlands are incomplete without conifers like Atlantic white cedar, their signature inhabitants! Soaring up to 35 m, these trees can live from 200 years to a century. Chamaecyparis is widely used as material for cabins, fences, and furniture.
If you chose your favorite tree, don't forget to check out his preferences before you plant! Remember, each greenie has its own needs, so it's best to know beforehand.
Shrubs are the secondary vegetation in the wetland, growing in the shade of tall, majestic trees you had just learned about from the previous list. Here are some of the best-looking shrubs out there:
Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
The blueberries in your fridge are likely the wetland species of the so-called highbush blueberry. The supermarket version of the plant is mainly cultivated in a loamy, acidic growing medium to mimic the characteristic wetland soil.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
This is another berry-producing shrub in a swampy environment. Its pea-sized scarlet fruits last throughout the cold season. Plant it in full or partial sun with moderate to persistently wet loamy soil to simulate its natural environment... And enjoy the harvest!
American Snowbell (Styrax americanus)
American snowbell is a low-lying bush that typically reaches 9 ft (3 m) tall when mature. Its white flowers produce an enchanting smell that is a local pollinators' treat, like bees and butterflies. Snowbells make great landscape plants near a patio.
Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)
With minimal pruning and care, arrowwood viburnum might be the perfect plant if flooding is always a problem in your garden. The blueberry-like fruits play an essential role in the ecosystem, nourishing many birds and other animals.
Button Bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
Found in many parts of northern America, the buttonbush is a dwarf shrub that thrives in marshy environments and is often used in restoration projects. Cephalanthus occidentalis produces a cluster of flowers resembling white pom poms, a delightful nectar source for honeybees!
Bushes can add more volume to the garden, so consider planting one if it feels a little empty around your porch.
Wouldn't expect to find flowers in the swamp? Get ready to be surprised.
Florida Pinxter Azalea (Rhododendron canescens)
Also known as Florida honeysuckle, this plant has some show-stopping pinkish-white flowers, blooming in spring until late summer. Although its native home is the wetlands, you can grow it in gardens with moderate moisture levels.
Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus)
This is a common plant in the wetlands of Europe, northwest Africa, and West Asia. If you live in America, you can grow this in contained garden ponds or artificial lakes. Be careful! It has been reported to aggressively invade marshes and compete with the local flora, so try to keep all that beauty under control.
Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris)
Known for its 5-petalled pink flowers, the swamp rose is a flowering shrub that can span at least 3 feet (1 m) wide. Aside from the excellent tolerance to saturated soils, the deciduous shrub can also resist many more fungal diseases than its commercially-sold cousins!
String Lily (Crinum americanum)
A herbaceous perennial flowering plant native to the US, the String Lily was named after its ribbon-like flowers that arise from its fleshy bulb. Its unique white blooms can appear anytime, especially when planted in container pots.
Wild Mustard (Packera aurea)
Wild mustard welcomes any nectar-hungry bees and other pollinators with its attractive golden flowers. This wetland flower might be the answer if you want a flowering alternative for lawns!
Can a wetland be the next place to look for a perfect bouquet? What do you think?
While many consider grasses weeds, some of the following species are great finds for any green thumb.
Sugarcane Plume Grass (Saccharum giganteum)
This greenie has a traditional use as a living fence. We highly recommend considering it, if you could use some privacy.
Rabbit Foot Grass (Polypogon monspeliensis)
Even though this plant is considered invasive in some US regions, it has high ornamental value. The beautiful spikes are quite a sight, reaching about 23 in (60 cm) in height.
Saltwater Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora)
Saltwater cordgrass is equipped with water-resistant and hardy rhizomes, forming little islets in the middle of wetlands. As a garden plant, cordgrass is valued for its rustic brown inflorescences that appear in summer and fall.
Spike Grass (Distichlis spicata)
This saline grass is an enticing food for many bird species, including wild ducks, so keep an eye out for visitors! It produces a dense network of roots, making it useful in restoration projects to protect freshwater wetlands from seawater.
Common reed (Phragmites australis)
Marshlands are known for common reed. You can easily spot its tall stalks from afar (a fair indicator you might be heading to a swamp!). However, if grown in the garden, reed can spread rapidly and may require some control measures to prevent it from spreading beyond its intended area and threatening the other grass species you're cultivating.
We hope this list changed your mind about swamp grasses. Always look at the pretty side!
Thin Plants That Grow in Marshes
The following is a list of tall and thin plants that grow in marshes, having grass-like features but actually belongs to a different family:
Common Cattail (Typha latifolia)
Finding cattails would surely be unsurprising after a casual walk on a wetland trail. This species dominates many aquatic habitats. You can recognize the cattails by their cylindrical, elongated brown inflorescences.
Umbrella Sedge (Cyperus eragrostris)
The "umbrella" in the name refers to the long triangular stalk–reaching up to a meter long–whorled with grass-like foliage and flowers at the top.
Saltmeadow Rush (Juncus gerardii)
Also known as the Saltmarsh Rush, this graminoid or grass-like herb occupies many saltwater marshes as its primary habitat. They reach up to quite tall, producing bead-sized brown capsules on top.
Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile)
This plant's tall stems resemble bamboo, so you can probably imagine how much the landscape designers fawn over this wetland greenie!
California Cordgrass (Spartina foliosa)
Native to California's flooded salty plains and mudflats, this graminoid herb survives in salt-intruded habitats by expelling crystalline minerals from its elegant, long leaves.
Some wetland plants of diverse families that deserve special mention are:
Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix)
This wetland species might suit you if you find tropical palms challenging to grow. Needle palm is considered the most cold-hardy of its kind, thriving in diverse conditions. While the tree prefers moist soils, it can tolerate drought and will abundantly produce its signature fan-shaped pointy foliage.
Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis)
Under the dense shade of woodland banks lies a lush growth of these leafy royals. Royal fern is native to Eurasia and Africa but is naturalized in many parts of the world.
Pacific Pickleweed (Salicornia pacifica)
This is a perennial herb growing commonly found in alkali marshes. It is the primary food source of many migratory birds. A fun fact! In some Mediterranean countries where this species thrives, it is harvested and eaten fresh, like pickles.
Sea Lavender (Limonium carolinianum)
The clustered mauve flowers of this plant decorate the salt marshes and mudflats in the summer. Despite being called the Lavender of the Sea, this salt-tolerant species is unrelated to the true lavender at all.
Mosquito fern (Azolla caroliniana)
Mosquito ferns are essential members of the aquatic ecosystem. They harbor cyanobacteria colonies that can transform atmospheric nitrogen into an absorbable form.
Even though these plants are the last on the list, they deserve all the love and attention (especially because of their role in the environement!).
Why Are Plants Essential to Wetlands?
Plants play a crucial role in the wetlands as they are the food source for the local wildlife. They are also considered common nesting grounds of birds and help restore and protect the landscape from natural and anthropogenic activities.
What Do Plants Living in Wetlands Have?
Wetland plants have morphological adaptations to cope with the flooded ecosystem, such as the capacity to excrete salts in the leaves, pump oxygen from the leaves to the roots, and even float or thrive entirely underwater.
What Are the Wetland Plants Called?
Wetland plants are called hydrophytes, a group of botanic life that grows and flourish with partial or flooded soils. They can be categorically placed as emergent, floating, or submergent.
Next time you see a swamp, don't get all icky. The plants that grow there are essential to the environment and beautiful, just like their common supermarket-friendly cousins. Sometimes you must avoid being fooled by mass appeal and go for originality instead. These plants might be just what your garden had been missing all along!