Next time you’re walking along the edge of a river, lake or wetland, take a closer look at the plants growing at the edges. Aquatic plants are often undervalued and overlooked. They play important roles in our local ecosystems. The list of benefits is long. They provide habitat for a variety of wildlife. They filter pollutants and improve the health of local waterways and they add beauty to our local landscapes.

Did you know that plants growing in water are actually grouped into four types based on where they grow?

  1. Floating
  2. Submerged
  3. Emergent
  4. Wet meadow
Illustration of aquatic planting zones
Aquatic plant zones can overlap as well as change as water levels change through the seasons


Floating plants are as exactly as they sound – they float. Found in quiet and calm areas in wetlands and lakes, they prefer still or very slow flowing water protected from wind.

They shade the water underneath, creating an open underwater environment ideal for fish on the hunt for water insects.

Floating plants help prevent algae by absorbing nutrients, blocking light and cooling the water.

Examples in the Credit River Watershed include fragrant water lily (Nymphaea odorata) and duckweed species (Lemna species).

A mat of fragrant water lilies
Fragrant water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) at Terra Cotta Conservation Area


Submergent aquatic plants grow below the water’s surface. They like shallow water where they can get a lot of sunlight. They create diverse and complex underwater habitat. Fish use this habitat to make nests and to hide from prey while on the hunt. These plants are also food for ducks and geese.

Submergent aquatic plants are ones you want around. They help keep lake water clear. Their roots keep clay, silt, sand and soil in place on the bottom of the lake. Examples found in the Credit River Watershed include common hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum), sago pondweed (Stuckenia pectinata) and broad waterweed (Elodea canadensis).

Plants growing underwater
Submergent aquatic vegetation at Rattray Marsh Conservation Area


Emergent aquatic plants grow in the transition zone between land and water and are mostly found along shorelines. Their roots are submerged while the stem and leaves are above the water’s surface.

Waterfowl such as Canada geese, mallards, and wood ducks feast on emergent plants. They also use their sturdy stems and leaves to build nests. Fish and insects also use these plants for cover and food.

Examples found in the Credit River Watershed include cattails (Typha species), broad-fruited burreed (Sparganium eurycarpum), plantain species (Alisma species), softstem bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani) and river bulrush (Bolboschoenus fluviatilis).

Cattails along a muddy shoreline
Cattails growing on the shoreline of Rattray Marsh Conservation Area

Wet Meadow

Wet meadow plants like moist soils. You can find them on streambanks, edges of wetlands, shorelines and marshes. They can tolerate seasonal flooding.

These plants prevent erosion. Their large root systems hold soil in place. They’re an important food source for pollinators like bees, birds, butterflies and moths. Since these plants grow tall, mammals use them for cover to hide from predators. They also serve as a great snack. Examples found in the Credit River Watershed include butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), common boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), blue vervain (Verbena hastata) and yellow marsh marigold (Caltha palustris).

common coneset and blue vervain flowers in a wet meadow
Common coneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), blue vervain (Verbena hastata).

The next time you’re near water, see if you can identify the different types of aquatic plants.

By: CVC’s Krystal Lomas, Technician 2, Ecosystem Restoration

Comments (2)

  1. Enjoyed this-very informative! Thank you!
    I always LOVE seeing the wetland marshes in any season near Lakeside Gallery on Heart Lake Road and now I know a little more about the aquatic plants in there! Water lilies was all I knew before.

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