How to Grow & Plant Golden Club (Orontium aquaticum)

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Golden club emerging out of the water
Golden club has water-repellent leaves that extend up to 12 inches in length. Meneerke bloem, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The sole living species in its genus, Orontium aquaticum is an aquatic perennial that is commonly known as golden club, floating arum, and never-wet. It belongs to the large Araceae family of arums, which are known for producing atypical floral inflorescences. The tiny flowers of these plants arise from a specialized structure, called a spadix. Oftentimes, these are protected by leaf-like bracts, known as spathes, that may be more eye-catching in color and form than the flowers themselves. Golden club is just one of 3,750 species of plants in the arum family, yet it is set apart by its prominent features.

Native to the Eastern United States, this attractive herb produces clumps of long, velvety leaves that gracefully emerge from the water’s surface. These leaves are typically lance-shaped and bright green in color, with an ever-so-subtle hint of blue. They extend to up to 12 inches (30 cm) in length and actually have water-repellent surfaces (this explains the common name ‘never-wet’)!

Throughout spring, this plant produces golden-yellow flowers that give it a noticeably quirky character. These are borne on club-shaped spikes that protrude out of the water and appear weightless, as though defying gravity. Very early in the flowering period, green spathes accompany the vivid spikes. These wither quickly, however, leaving the flowers to face the elements on their own.

Facts, Benefits & Uses of Golden Club

In the wild, golden club is often found growing in shallow regions of slow-moving water bodies, such as marshes, swamps, ponds, bogs, and streams. As an endemic plant, it is now considered rare or endangered in several areas of the US (i.e. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania).

It slowly spreads via creeping rhizomes, and is thus suitable for growth in pots along the margins of an ornamental pond. Unlike many aquatic plants, its rhizomes are vertically oriented and produce roots that expand and contract. When these roots contract, the rhizome is drawn deeper into the soil, providing the plant with the stability it requires to maintain an aquatic habit.

Due to its bright inflorescences, golden club provides continuous interest throughout its growth period. It can attract a host of pollinators to your pond. Don’t be surprised by a foul odor that may occasionally waft from its spikes, as this may serve as the attractant for flies, beetles, and bees! Once pollinated, the unique flowers develop into fruits, which can mature and dehisce in water. Protected by a mucus layer, these detach from the main plant and ripen to reveal a single seed.

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Golden Club Fact Sheet:
Herbacious aquatic perennial
USDA 5 – 10
Full sun to partial shade
Golden yellow
April to June
1 – 2 feet (30 – 60 cm)
6 – 18 inches (15 – 45 cm)
pH 5 – 7


Golden Club Growth, Hardiness & Climate

Golden club leaves on the surface of the water
In deeper water (up to 18 inches), golden club’s leaves float on the surface. Meneerke bloem, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Orontium aquaticum thrives best in moist to consistently wet soil, and can grow comfortably in standing or flowing water. The orientation with which its leaves arise is dependent on water depth – in very shallow water its leaves are emergent, but in slightly deeper water (up to 18 inches), its leaves float on the surface. Individuals found in the wild show a preference for slightly acidic conditions and tannin-containing waterbodies. Golden club can safely be grown alongside other small marginal pond plants as it is not associated with any serious diseases or pests.

Hardy to USDA zones 5 – 7, this species is not frost tender. Its leaves are not evergreen, however, and tend to wither just before winter. It prefers sandy or muddy soil that may occasionally be exposed through midsummer and autumn. It is tolerant of partial shade conditions, but its colors are brought out more when grown under full sun.

How to Plant Golden Club

Golden club in a garden pond
If you want to plant golden club via seeds, the seeds must be collected in mid-summer. Meneerke bloem, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Golden club can be planted via seeds or propagated using root divisions. The seeds must be collected in mid-summer and sown immediately onto wet or mucky soil, preferably with a pH level of 6 – 7. This would ideally be done in a makeshift cold frame or a greenhouse so that the seedlings are afforded protection from the elements. To keep the soil wet, keep them submerged in container/tray set-ups with a few inches of water. Once seedlings are firm enough to be handled, transplant them into individual pots with loamy soil that likewise stays wet or moist.

Come late spring or summer, the juvenile plants can be transferred to their permanent positions around your pond or bog garden. Select a marginal area with moderate water flow and situate the plant so that its crown is approximately 6 inches (15 cm) under the water’s surface. If planting via root divisions, you may opt to establish root systems in their own individual pots (having a volume of 2 – 5 gallons per plant) in a greenhouse or cold frame. This is fortunately not necessary in the spring or summer months, as the plant’s contractile roots can quickly secure themselves in soil.

How to Care For Golden Club

Golden club plants in flower
When handled with bare hands, golden club can cause mild skin irritations. Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Golden club is quite easy to care for and will naturally receive most of its requirements from a pond edge location. Ensure that the leaves receive full sun to enhance their color and to encourage efficient productivity. Keep in mind that this species will appreciate being situated under a few inches of water, from which its leaves and flowers may gracefully emerge.

The plant’s short-lived spikes should carefully be removed once their color begins to fade. This way, any unpollinated flowers aren’t allowed to decay in water or attract potentially harmful pests and microbes. Note that golden club can cause mild skin irritations when handled with bare hands, so try to use gardening gloves when checking the foliage for pests or when obtaining divisions for propagation.

How to Winter Golden Club

As golden club is endemic to several areas that experience frosty winters, it is quite cold-hardy. Its leaves will die back in autumn, so make sure to remove any dry or decaying plant parts before the pond freezes over. The rootstock of this species can withstand temperatures of -20 to -15˚C (-4 to 5˚F), though protection may be required in harsh conditions. If your golden clubs are rooted in pots, you may consider transferring them into your greenhouse before the first frosts take place. If doing so, make sure the pots stay submerged in a few inches of water so that the soil never dries out. They can be moved back into your pond after the final frosts.

Is Golden Club Invasive or Toxic?

Rare in the wild, golden club is not an invasive species and is not known for competing with other aquatic plants. Its slow-growing habit can prevent it from developing well-established populations, especially when other invasive plants are present. As it thrives best in wild wetland regions, its existence is often threatened by habitat fragmentation, rapid urbanization, pronounced changes in water levels, and pollution.

Nonetheless, this plant is not without its defenses! All of its sap-containing parts have calcium oxalate crystals, rendering the species mildly toxic. Contact with cell sap from virtually all major plant organs can cause skin irritation and may induce digestive system complications when consumed raw or without proper preparation beforehand. The indigestible crystals may, unfortunately, harm your fish by causing tissue injuries.

Though not often listed under common ichthyotoxic plants, it may be prudent to steer clear of this species if your pond is home to highly valuable fish species. Another option is to simply control populations of the plant or fence it off from the main pond. This can be done with mesh barriers or with the use of large vases or urns that can separately house miniature pond systems.

Is Golden Club Edible? Will Fish Eat it?

Despite its reputation for being mildly toxic, Orontium aquaticum actually has edible roots and seeds. The calcium oxalate crystals in these plant parts can be destroyed by cooking them thoroughly or by drying and grounding them into a powder. The root powder can then be used as an alternative to flour for baking bread and biscuits. To remove the bitter taste, the roots must be soaked in cold water for several hours before cooking. The seeds of this plant are said to taste like peas and must be boiled repeatedly, with water being changed every time, prior to consumption.

Curious fish may, unfortunately, eat floating seeds or submerged parts of this plant. When consuming plants with calcium oxalate crystals, they can experience indigestion or display other symptoms of injury to their mouths and digestive tracts. Prevent this by managing your golden club’s growth and by removing seeds before they fall onto your pond’s surface.

Where to Buy Golden Club & Seeds? (UK & US)

Golden club can be purchased in plant nurseries and aquatic plant stores located across its native range. Online portals also carry farm-raised 5 – 7” potted individuals, though they may often go out of stock during months outside of the plant’s natural growth period. As wild populations are increasingly rare, only purchase this plant from reputable sources that farm them responsibly.

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