8 Hardy & Easy Floating Pond Plants 2023 [Updated]

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8 Hardy & Easy Floating Pond Plants For Small & Large Ponds [Updated]

Floating pond plants
Floating pond plants bring many benefits to your pond, such as preventing algal blooms, protecting wildlife from predators, and keeping the water at a cool temperature. Marshall Reyher, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Distinguished by highly specialized features, such as gas-filled pockets, light fronds, and aquatic roots, floating plants are desirable additions to just about any type of water feature. They add attractive color and texture to the water’s surface, but their most important benefits go far beyond their aesthetic appeal. In ponds, the presence of floating plants can significantly influence water quality and diversity.

The shade afforded by the leaves of floating plants aids in maintaining cool water temperatures, protecting wildlife from overhead predators, and preventing harmful algal blooms. As they photosynthesize, they help strip the water of excess nutrients. Some species have the tendency to proliferate at exceedingly fast rates and are thus desirable food sources for heavy-feeding omnivores. The drawback to their spreading capacity, however, is their potential to become thick mats that block out light and oxygen.

Based on their vegetative features’ tolerance for submersion, there are three types of floating pond plants. These include free-floating plants, which have leaves and roots that remain entirely on the water’s surface, submersed-floating leaved plants, which are rooted to the benthos, and trailing floating plants, which form shoots that trail from the edges of the pond. The best choices are those that are not known for being invasive. These types will require less maintenance and are unlikely to spread uncontrollably.

1) Cape pondweed (Aponogeton distachyos)

Cape pondweed flowers
Cape pondweed has vanilla-scented flowers that tend to bloom unpredictably throughout the year. Burghley House, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to South Africa

Also known as water hawthorn, the cape pondweed is a lovely perennial with a submersed-floating leaved growth habit. Surface features grow to a maximum height of about 4 inches (10 cm), though submerged features can persist in pond depths of up to 3 feet (91 cm). Fairly resistant to diseases and warm conditions, this species is best cultivated in small to medium-sized water features where its delicate leaves and flowers can be visually appreciated.

Cape pondweed is distinguished by its oval leaves, which are borne on lengthy, submerged petioles attached to a rooted rhizome. Petioles may grow as long as 1 meter (3.3 feet) in moderately deep pond margins. The leaf blades are slightly mottled and have smooth and entire margins. The flowers of this species are quite showy but have an unpredictable bloom period. In some areas, they begin to appear in spring and may reappear once more throughout warm winters.

The vanilla-scented blooms are borne on Y-shaped and stalked inflorescences. Their petals are usually cream to white-colored and may have peachy tones toward the base. From afar, the petals may look speckled with brown dots due to a profusion of dark-toned anthers. Blooms should be cut back once they are spent to prevent them from decaying on the water’s surface.

2) Water lilies (Nymphaea spp.)

Nymphaea alba
A single Nymphaea alba plant can spread to about 60 inches (152 cm)! юра запеченко, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cosmopolitan distribution

Known as the nymphs of the garden, the water lily is perhaps the most popular of all aquatic plants. These stunning floaters produce leaves and flowers in a wide range of colors and sizes. There are now hundreds of cultivars developed by specialists all across the globe. There are strains that are suitable for growth in practically every set of climate conditions. Many award-winning cultivars are able to thrive and multiply in shade as well.

Water lilies are best known for their large heart-shaped to fully circular leaves and their star-shaped flowers. These features are quite dynamic as they may gradually change in color over time. Some have blooms that darken over the course of a few days as their leaves lighten and expand. The type species of the genus, Nymphaea alba, has leaves that can measure as much as 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter. A single plant can spread to about 60 inches (152 cm).

Some types of water lilies are perfect for small to medium-sized ponds, whereas others are more suitable for expansive ponds due to their large features. Dwarf waterlilies produce extremely delicate and small floating fronds throughout their lifetimes, whereas large ones can have clusters of leaves that can shade out an entire pond. When selecting cultivars for your pond, don’t forget to account for size.

3) Fanwort (Cabomba caroliniana)

Submerged fanwort plants
Fanwort grows best in clean, highly oxygenated water. Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the Americas

Depending on its orientation relative to the pond floor and water’s surface, fanwort can display variable growth forms. Its fully submerged and rooted form is frequently grown in aquariums and wildlife ponds as the upright shoots add beneficial structure to the water column. Occasionally, it produces floating leaves. These are usually associated with the plant’s flowers, which arise from the tips of the submerged stems.

The floating leaves markedly differ from the submerged ones, which are composed of fine leaflets that fan out from the stem. These complex leaves are arranged opposite one another. In contrast, the floating leaves are arranged alternately along the stem and have a more linear instead of complex structure. They can be quite inconspicuous compared to the submerged foliage. Submerged stem cuttings may also survive in a floating state for quite some time until they are able to root into bottom substrates.

In optimal conditions, fanwort usually grows and spreads in a uniform manner. It favors clean and highly oxygenated water with a temperature range of about 65 – 75˚F (18 – 24˚C). The size of its leaves is affected by water hardness, with smaller-sized foliage being more abundant in harder water. Full exposure to sunlight is recommended as this brings out the bright green coloration of the leaves. Note that this plant can reproduce vegetatively via fragmentation.

4) Water poppy (Hydrocleys nymphoides)

Water poppy flowers
Water poppy has attractive yellow flowers that rise a few centimeters above the water. Fan Wen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Central and South America

If you’re in need of a submersed-floating leaved plant that can quickly shade out a portion of your pond, the water poppy may be an effective choice. Though the leaves and runners of this species remain situated on the water’s surface, it may sometimes be referred to as an emergent plant. This is because the leaves may occasionally rise off of the surface. The flower stalks are also usually long enough to elevate the blooms to a few centimeters clear of the water.

Water poppies are not closely related to the terrestrial or Papaver poppies. A member of the Alismataceae family, this species is chiefly cultivated as an ornamental plant. It is a low-maintenance perennial with several decorative features. These include its shiny and smoothly-margined leaves and its solitary, yellow blooms. Opening to a full diameter of about 2 inches (5 cm), each of the blooms has 3 petals attached to deep red-brown centers.

H. nymphoides favors slow-moving, nutrient-rich waters. Its runners can rapidly spread out in warm conditions and in water depths of up to 2 meters (6.5 feet). Full sun exposure and optimal conditions can induce a prolific blooming period, with new blooms being produced on a daily basis as they last for just a few hours. Note that this species may grow aggressively and should be regularly cut back to prevent overcrowding.

5) Yellow pond lily (Nuphar lutea)

Yellow pond lilies
The yellow pond lily can tolerate a variety of conditions, but it’s less tolerant of water pollutants in comparison with Nymphaea plants. David Perez, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America

For large and relatively deep wildlife or angling ponds, you’ll need floating plants with a higher tolerance for stagnant water and depths greater than 2 meters (6.5 feet). The yellow pond lily can thrive in a wide range of conditions as its wild populations are found in altitudes of up to 10,000 feet (3,000 meters). Often found in beaver ponds, its roots and shoots are adapted to oxygen-deficient soils.

Also called the European cow lily and spatterdock, this aquatic herb is characterized by its large floating leaves and yellow flowers. The leaves are borne on lengthy petioles which extend from the plant’s rooted rhizomes to the water’s surface. The solitary and terminal blooms seem to defy gravity as they are gracefully perched on the tips of emergent stalks. Usually present from June to September, these emit an alcoholic fragrance that attracts flies.

Compared to Nymphaea species, the yellow pond lily is less tolerant of water pollutants. In clean freshwater systems, it serves as food for many avian and terrestrial pond or lake visitors. These include deer, turtles, ducks, and muskrats, which may occasionally graze on exposed rhizomes. Interestingly, this species has exhibited potential for use as a medicinal plant for the treatment of many diseases, including cancer and Parkinson’s.

6) Water fern (Azolla filiculoides)

Water fern
Water fern requires regular maintenance to prevent overcrowding. Stickpen / Public domain

Native to the Americas

Though the water fern can be cultivated as an ornamental aquatic plant, do be aware that it may require regular maintenance to prevent its fronds from overcrowding the pond’s surface. This small aquatic fern can quickly spread, competing with other floating or emergent species. As it is free-floating, with adventitious roots that remain suspended just underneath the water’s surface, it can easily be fished out of water.

The water fern consists of three main organ systems. These include the main rhizome, the alternately arranged leaves that it bears, and the roots dangling from the floating nodes. This macrophyte’s small size and fully floating nature are instrumental in its capacity to become invasive. Its introduction into many parts of the world was spurred by its attractive leaves, which may have red, orange, or purple edges.

A good way to control the spread of water fern in an ornamental pond is by maintaining a steady current. The small fronds will likely be restricted to areas with still water. They may spread around the pond, but the water’s movement should inhibit the production of its moss-like mats. Fortunately, there is use for overgrown ferns. Excessive growth can be used as a form of “green manure” to enrich the nutrient profile of soils.

7) Water clover (Marsilea quadrifolia)

Water clover plants
Water clover produces charming four-leaf clovers that tend to float on the surface of the water. Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Found in Europe, Asia, and North America

If there are terrestrial clovers that freely dot moist lawns and serve as home to mythical creatures of the garden, there are water clovers that are just as mystical too. M. quadrifolia is a charming aquatic plant with four-leaf clovers. Though these are not necessarily restricted to the water’s surface, the clovers do tend to float. The rest of the plant does not require full submersion to persist and can even thrive in pots outside of the pond as long as they have saturated soil.

In water, the petioles lengthen to reach the surface, where their leaves can remain perfectly splayed out. These are anchored to creeping rhizomes along the bottom of shallow ponds. In deeper ponds, this plant can be cultivated in tall pots with a clearance of about 6 inches (15 cm) from the water’s surface. In exceedingly shallow conditions, the petioles and leaves tend to be emergent.

Water clover is best grown under partial sun exposure. It is not a winter hardy plant and will likely die back as soon as temperatures dip considerably. In its non-native regions, it may be considered a troublesome weed as it readily escapes cultivation. It is now naturalized in many parts of the northern hemisphere due to its tolerance for a wide range of moisture levels and growth conditions.

8) Floating watermoss (Salvinia natans)

Floating watermoss
Floating watermoss has a feather-like leaf that is hidden underwater, acting as its anchor and freely-floating root. Salicyna, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Europe, Africa, and Asia

Also called floating fern and water butterfly wings, the floating watermoss is an aquatic perennial fern. It has a unique leaflet configuration that makes it mimic the appearance of a mat of moss. Small, delicate, and bright green, its oval-shaped leaflets grow to just 1-inch long. Each macrophyte consists of three leaves, with two arranged opposite one another on the water’s surface and one hidden underwater.

The hidden leaf of each plant acts as both its anchor and freely-floating root. It is feather-like and looks markedly different from the two leaves on the surface. The surface leaves are capable of floating due to the presence of air pouches. Though small, their clusters can quickly reproduce and expand to shade out a considerable portion of water. In highly fertile ponds, uncontrolled growth may lead to the production of thick mats.

In optimal abundance, floating watermoss can serve as a vital form of protection and shade for many small aquatic animals. The leaves are well-protected from rotting in water due to the presence of a cuticular layer with hair-like follicles. They can thus thrive in a wide variety of moist environments, including properly lit vivariums, paludariums, and aquariums.

2 thoughts on “8 Hardy & Easy Floating Pond Plants 2023 [Updated]”

  1. A very good article about floating pond plants for small and large ponds. Plants add attractive color and texture to the water’s surface. Every small and large pond owner should read the article to keep their pond beautiful and fresh.



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