14 Aquatic Flowering Plants (Top Picks)

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White water lily
Introducing aquatic flowering plants to your pond can create a stunning focal point and attract pollinators. Der Berzerker / CC BY 2.0

Inspired by Monet’s Water Garden or Japan’s many stunning ornamental ponds? These thought-evoking water features, which are known for their well-balanced and tasteful selections of plants and decor, leave visitors with a sense of peaceful wonder. The water’s surface becomes a focal point on which one can meditate upon the sky’s reflection. Woven into this image are floating blooms, emergent inflorescences, and their faithful swarms of pollinators.

Aquatic flowering plants are definitely some of the most stunning additions to outdoor ponds and fountains. Even wildlife ponds, which are more effective at supporting the needs of a diversity of animals and plants, benefit from the addition of native flowering perennials. These attract a wealth of insects and birds, most of which can significantly influence the ecological balance of a garden or pond.

Many of the most popular flowering plants are those with floating components, like the foliage of waterlilies, and upright spikes of flowers, like those of the water hyacinth. Given the sheer diversity of aquatic plants, it’s possible to cover the entire shoreline of a large pond with eye-catching flowers. To truly complement both the role and visual impact of your water feature, however, it’s best to cultivate a nuanced selection of environment-friendly bloomers.

1) Water lily (Nymphaea spp.)

Blue water lily
Water lilies bring a sense of elegance to any pond and can even combat algal growth and prevent temperature fluctuations by offering shade! Kirill Kuptsov / CC BY 4.0

Cosmopolitan distribution

Water lilies are among the most popular aquatic flowering plants for many good reasons. Their long-lived blooms seem to generate an air of elegance and stillness in ponds. Their large leaves provide many ecological services to both pond inhabitants and visitors. While they add shade to combat algal growth and prevent temperature fluctuations, they also serve as cover for small fish and amphibians. The surfaces of both the leaves and blooms act as sites on which beneficial microbes can thrive and multiply.

The American water lily (N. odorata), the European white water lily (N. alba), and their cultivars are often the most readily available lilies in aquascaping stores. While these may initially appear to be floating plants, they must actually be rooted into bottom substrates. Lengthy petioles arise from the root system and make their way to the surface, where both the leaves and blooms unfurl.

2) Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes)

Water hyacinth in bloom
Water hyacinth is known for its glossy, bright green leaves that grow upright. Juan Carlos Fonseca Mata, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to South America

Among aquatic flowering plants, water hyacinth appears to have one of the fastest growth and spread rates. This phenomenally productive plant can cover the surface of large ponds in a matter of days to weeks. Its floating mats can double in spread at alarming rates, allowing them to colonize and compete with native species in both pristine and disturbed environments. For this reason, it would be best to cultivate this species in fully enclosed systems, from which it cannot escape into natural waterways.

Despite its status as an invasive plant, water hyacinth continues to be admired for its stunning inflorescences and its remarkable adaptability. Its glossy, bright green leaves, which grow in an upright and noticeably energetic manner, complement its spikes of lavender flowers. A close inspection of the blooms reveals that each one is equipped with 6 delicate petals – the topmost one has an eye-like pattern with a yellow center.

3) Sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)

Sacred lotus flowers
Sacred lotus does best in slow-moving waters, with its roots being able to send out leaf stalks that are 6 – 7 feet long! Syed Sajidul Islam, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to India, Mainland Southeast Asia, and East Asia

The sacred or Indian lotus is often mistaken for a water lily because it shares many physical attributes with members of the Nymphaeaceae family. It is not closely related to water lilies, however, as it belongs to its own family of aquatic flowering plants – Nelumbonaceae. This perennial thrives in slow-moving waters, where its roots are able to send out leaf stalks measuring up to 6 – 7 feet (1.8 – 2.1 meters) long. These bear large leaves (up to 31 inches or 79 cm wide) that either float or are suspended a few feet above the water’s surface.

Sacred lotus blooms are visions of perfection! Borne on thick floral stems that grow to a few inches taller than the leaf stalks, a single bloom can measure up to one foot across. The blooms of some cultivars may have dozens to thousands of soft, yet well-structured, petals. When these are pollinated, they develop into distinctly conical fruits that are pock-marked with socket-like, seed-containing structures.

4) Water iris (Iris laevigata)

Water iris blooms
Water iris is most productive if planted at a shallow depth of 2 – 8 inches and thrives along pond margins. Asturio Cantabrio, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to temperate Asia

Indisputably the most water-loving of emergent irises, I. laevigata thrives in pond margins. Its highest productivity and blooming rates are associated with shallow depths of around 2 – 8 inches (5 – 20 cm). The base of the plant should ideally be submerged in calm water throughout the year. When this species’ stands are situated under full or partial sun, its blooms can regularly appear through spring and early summer.

Each bloom consists of three deep-blue petals. Those of some cultivars have distinct patterns of purple or white streaks. In the absence of blooms, the plant continues to retain its ornamental value because of its striking, sword-shaped leaves. When these are densely packed along one edge of the pond, they create an organic backdrop that both blurs and renders vertical dimensionality to the pond’s margins. The leaves of mature plants can measure up to 30 inches (76 cm) tall.

5) Water hawthorn (Aponogeton distachyos)

Water hawthorn
It’s recommended to plant water hawthorn at a depth of around 18 inches and in an area with full to partial sun. H. Zell, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to South Africa

The water hawthorn’s unique blooms are borne on emergent spikes. These are branched at their tips to create a noticeably Y-shaped structure with aromatic petals. Upon close inspection, each bloom contains up to six deep-purple to dark-brown stamens, which look like speckles against their background of white petals. Surrounding the blooms are floating leaves, each anchored to a tuberous rhizome by a lengthy petiole. The leaves, which are typically mottled, are oval-shaped and may measure up to 10 inches (25 cm) long.

Often cultivated as an edible flowering plant for ornamental ponds or aquariums, water hawthorn is best placed under full to partial sun. A depth of around 18 inches (46 cm) is recommended for the rapid establishment of its seedlings or divisions. In regions with relatively warm winters, mature plants begin to send out inflorescence stalks all through fall and spring. As they enter a period of dormancy in summer, aim to plant them alongside flowering plants that bloom through the warmer months of the year.

6) Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

Pickerelweed in pond
For pickerelweed to sufficiently bloom, it should be rooted in a fertile, loamy substrate. gailhampshire / CC BY 2.0

Native to the Americas

A fantastic emergent plant for the margins of both ornamental and wildlife ponds, pickerelweed thrives on shores with fluctuating water levels. This versatile species tolerates seasonal floods in spring and periods of full exposure in mid to late summer. Its specialized stem is equipped with aerenchyma (air pockets) for shuttling oxygen into its roots. An important fixture in wetlands throughout its native range, it provides a wealth of ecological services to wild environments and urban gardens.

Pickerelweed looks especially eye-catching in late summer when its floral spikes come into full bloom. Its inflorescences rise through the layer of foliage, inviting pollinators to alight on its purple petals. The floral stalks can measure as much as 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall in optimal environments, where they tend to be present in extensive colonies. To ensure that they maintain a desirable bloom rate, they should be rooted into fertile, loamy substrates.

7) Water forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides)

Water forget-me-not flowers
Water forget-me-not is a semi-evergreen plant that is rarely seen as aggressive in its native range. Olive Titus / CC BY 2.0

Native to Europe and Siberia

Water forget-me-not thrives in shallow depths of up to just 4 inches (10 cm). This charming perennial is set apart by its cymes of sky-blue flowers. Its species epithet, scorpioides, highlights the similarity of the shape of its inflorescence to that of a coiled scorpion’s tail. The blooms are particularly abundant in summer, especially if they are found on plants situated at the shore of a pond or in a water garden. When found on sprawling colonies, the blooms can create a breathtaking carpet of color.

Hardy to USDA zones 5 – 9, water forget-me-not is semi-evergreen. It can spread on its own by self-seeding and via creeping rhizomes. It can cover patches of moist substrates fairly quickly, but it is seldom regarded as an aggressive plant in its native range. In some parts of the US, however, it is considered an invasive plant and is prohibited from being sold in stores. Restricting its root system to within mesh baskets or submerged pots, coupled with regular pruning, should help prevent its spread.

8) Water poppy (Hydrocleys nymphoides)

Water poppy in bloom
The water poppy’s heart-shaped leaves combined with its light yellow blooms make this plant a stunning addition to any garden pond. Doug Beckers / CC BY-SA 2.0

Native to Central and South America

A member of the Alismataceae or water-plantain family, water poppy is an emergent perennial with stunning ornamental properties. It is often cultivated in decorative ponds and water gardens due to its spritely summer blooms. Though they last for only one day, the blooms continue to be produced in succession. In hardiness zones 9 – 11, particularly in waters with temperatures above 70˚F (21˚C), this species tends to have a lengthy bloom period.

The water poppy’s light yellow blooms are gracefully accompanied by its throes of tiny, heart-shaped leaves. These typically float on the water’s surface, though some may produce slightly longer petioles and be held above the surface. Deep green, the leaves are borne on trailing stems that measure up to 3 feet (91 cm) long. The full height of this plant rarely exceeds 6 – 12 inches (15 – 30 cm), so it should be planted along a pond’s margins.

9) Swamp lily (Crinum americanum)

Swamp lilies in bloom
As their name suggests, swamp lilies prefer to spend their time in still or slow-moving water. Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America

The swamp lily thrives best in habitats with still or slow-moving water. A notable member of the Amaryllidaceae family, this perennial is anchored by its onion-like bulb. Its root system favors wet soil and can tolerate being submerged below 12 inches (30 cm) of water. A fine emergent plant for both ornamental and wildlife ponds, both its exposed and submerged components increase the structural diversity of water features.

From early summer to fall, stands of swamp lilies are distinguished by their energetic umbels of star-shaped blooms. Each bloom is equipped with up to 6, markedly tapered, white petals surrounding a set of lengthy, fuchsia-colored stamens. These are perched on floral stalks that arise directly from the bulb. The vivid, green leaves of this species are strap-shaped and evergreen. Those of mature specimens may measure up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) long.

10) Yellow pond lily (Nuphar lutea)

Yellow pond lily in water
The yellow pond lily’s floral stalks tend to emerge just a few inches above the water’s surface. Alex Zelenko, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa

Also known as cow lily and spatterdock, the yellow pond lily is an eye-catching aquatic plant. During its flowering period, it produces floral stalks that subtly emerge a few inches above the water’s surface. Each of these bears a single, fleshy bloom with a bud-like appearance. Their bright yellow sepals tightly and almost wholly enclose a set of smaller interior petals. From June to September, these emit a brandy-like scent that attracts insects.

The floating leaves of the yellow pond lily resemble those of its close cousins in the Nymphaeaceae family. These arise from petioles that measure around 8 – 20 inches (20 – 51 cm) long and are directly attached to submerged networks of spreading rhizomes. Heart-shaped, the leathery, bright green leaves may have a diameter of up to 16 inches (41 cm). Mature plants may also have smaller, submerged leaves with crinkled edges.

11) Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus)

Papyrus in water
Papyrus’ lengthy stems can reach heights of up to 16 feet; at the top of these stems are bunches of rays with tiny bloom clusters at the tips. Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0 US, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Africa

Unlike those of the flowering plants listed above, the blooms of this sedge (Cyperaceae) are not particularly colorful or delicate. They are valued by many horticulturists and pond enthusiasts, however, because of their unique structure. The tiny bloom clusters are found at the tips of this species’ fine rays, which collectively resemble fireworks or spiky feather dusters. Thread-like, the bunches of rays are perched atop lengthy stems that grow up to 16 feet (5 meters) tall!

Also known as paper reed, Nile grass, and Egyptian paper rush, C. papyrus is a recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit. This stunning plant can transform the look of a water garden or ornamental pond as it provides a dynamic vertical structure. In the wild, it usually occurs along the edges of tropical streams, lakes, and swamps, where it can self-spread to produce extensive colonies.

12) Mosaic plant (Ludwigia sedioides)

Mosaic plant leaves
Mosaic plant leaves are in the shape of a diamond and have symmetrical, toothed margins. TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) / CC BY 2.0

Native to South America

Named for the neat, mosaic-like appearance of its floating foliage, the mosaic plant is an attractive aquatic herb. Though it is principally cultivated for its leaves, it also produces lovely, cup-shaped blooms in summer. Bright yellow and held a few inches above the water’s surface, the blooms measure around 2 inches (5 cm) across. Their floral stalks arise from the leaf axils, which remain submerged.

The fine, floating leaves of the mosaic plant are diamond-shaped and have symmetrical, toothed margins. These radiate from the stems in an outward manner, creating a perfectly balanced rosette that may expand or contract. At night, the leaf stalks tend to contract, forcing the leaves to overlap along their edges. Given the complex yet hypnotizing appearance of the rosettes, this species is often grown as an ornamental plant in ponds and aquariums.

13) Water smartweed (Persicaria amphibia)

Water smartweed by pond
Not only does water smartweed look appealing, but it also helps in cleansing water, reducing erosion rates, and providing a source of food for wildlife! Andreas Rockstein / CC BY-SA 2.0

Native to North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa

Present in a wide range of aquatic habitats, water smartweed has both submerged and floating parts. Depending on the depth, its stem may either trail over bottom substrates, maintain an upright orientation, or remain afloat. Able to grow to a maximum length of about 10 feet (3 meters), the stem bears lance-shaped leaves with petioles that extend to about a foot long. From June to October, mature specimens send out emergent inflorescence stalks.

The flowers of water smartweed are clustered together in terminal spikes. Showy and bright pink, these are each made up of five lobes. Apart from beautifying the shoreline, both the blooms and leaves play important ecological roles. A source of food for wildlife, including small mammals and waterfowl, this aquatic perennial aids in cleansing water and reducing erosion rates. If you intend to cultivate this species, keep in mind that it can cause rashes and should thus be handled with gardening gloves.

14) Broadleaf arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia)

Broadleaf arrowhead in pond
The broadleaf arrowhead has 3-pointed, arrow-shaped leaves, with some leaves being more narrow than others. Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North and Central America

As suggested by its common name, broadleaf arrowhead is distinguished by its 3-pointed, arrow-shaped leaves. Attached to petioles that gracefully jut through the water’s surface, these are deep-green, have parallel veins, and may measure up to 20 inches (51 cm) long. Leaf morphology is quite variable, with some leaves being more narrow than broad.

The blooms of broadleaf arrowhead are arranged in whorls of 3 along the length of a terminal inflorescence. Made up of 3 white petals and a central tuft of yellow stamens, each flower is about 0.2 – 0.8 inches (0.5 – 2 cm) across. Its emergent floral stalks, which are usually found from July to September, rise high above the water’s surface and are typically more than 35 inches (89 cm) long. The edible tubers of this species can usually be harvested in the fall, soon after its delicate blooms are spent.

Angeline L
About the author

Angeline L

I'm a passionate researcher and scuba diver with a keen interest in garden plants, marine life, and freshwater ecology. I think there’s nothing better than a day spent writing in nature. I have an academic and professional background in sustainable aquaculture, so I advocate for the responsible production of commercial fish, macroinvertebrates, and aquatic plants.

Read more about Pond Informer.

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