10 Best Low Light Pond Plants 2022 [Updated]


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The 10 Best Low Light Pond Plants 2022 

Shady pond with ducks
Ponds in shaded areas lack UV light, which can stunt plant growth. Valerie Everett / CC BY-SA 2.0

Although ponds are best situated in areas that afford them ample sunlight and shade, space limitations may not always work in your favor. If your pond is in a forested garden, urban setting, or under the protection of opaque roofing, you’ll need to account for the effects of generous shade. This should not necessarily diminish the appeal or ornamental impact of your pond as the shade can actually bring out its more subtle features and create a somber theme for meditative thought.

One of the main issues with cultivating a pond in shade is the lack of UV light for optimal aquatic and edge plant growth. Plants that are highly adapted to brightly-lit conditions should not be placed in a shady spot as they can become leggy, produce stunted leaves, and eventually be bloom-deprived come spring or summer. Fortunately, plants are as diverse as they come. Keep in mind that even the darkest of forests can be rife with plants that favor shade, low temperatures, and consistently moist conditions.

When selecting pond plants for shade, it’s best to look into the conditions of their native environments. If their leaves are prone to becoming scorched due to direct sun exposure, they are likely to persist in spots receiving less sun or full shade. Note that some species may be sold as shade plants even if they require at least 2 – 3 hours of direct sun exposure per day. The plants listed below generally tolerate varying levels of shade and moist to wet substrate conditions.


1) Black magic taro (Colocasia esculenta)

Black magic taro
Black magic taro is an attractive cultivar with dark, velvety leaves. Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Southeast Asia and India

Though taro itself is a fantastic ornamental to have around shady ponds, its ‘black magic’ cultivar has an otherworldly appeal. Its alluringly dark and velvety leaves can add drama and structure to a pond’s margins or borders. The markedly large leaves are borne on petioles that can grow to more than a meter high, so they add vertical dimension as well. Even young plants are desirable as the leaves may appear more compact.

The purple to black leaves perform best in partial shade and in areas that are protected from strong winds. They are as delicate as they are decorative and will benefit from ample shelter. As these elephant ears are heavy feeders (with a high preference for phosphates), they also favor regularly moist soil and frequent fertilization. Their leaves tend to grow larger when there is a balanced profile of nutrients in the substrate.

Situate black magic taro along the pond’s margins or edges. The petioles and roots can tolerate being submerged in up to 6 inches (15 cm) of still water. Place this plant next to brighter-hued foliage for maximum contrast. The leaves can also serve as a stunning backdrop to add texture to the pond setup without drawing attention away from the water.


2) Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

Marsh marigold
Marsh marigold is a low-maintenance plant that requires additional cover in the summer, because intense sunlight can cause dormancy. Acabashi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the Northern Hemisphere

This fairly common plant is able to thrive in most types of light exposure conditions. Deer-resistant, low-maintenance, and self-spreading, it is a hardy pond plant that can be grown along shallow margins or consistently moist borders. Full sun is required for maximum flowering rates, though shade is also tolerated. Additional cover is particularly important in summer, as intense sunlight can induce dormancy.

This bog plant can grow to a maximum height of about 31 inches (79 cm), with a full spread of about 1 foot. It is distinguished by alternately occurring leaves arranged in a rosette formation. The bright green leaf blades may be shaped like kidneys, hearts, or ovals. They are smoothly margined and deeply notched. Bright yellow flowers typically come into bloom in late spring to early summer. They are known for attracting bees and hoverflies (Syrphidae).

Commercially cultivated for ornamental use, the marsh marigold isn’t actually a true marigold (Tagetes spp.). It is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). In the wild, it is usually found in extensive swathes under both full sun and partial shade exposure.


3) Water pennywort (Hydrocotyle verticillata)

Water pennywort plant
Water pennywort is a great groundcover plant in partly shaded, consistently moist substrates. Dinesh Valke from Thane, India, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the Americas

Perfectly situated along the foreground of a shaded pond, the water pennywort is a charming marsh plant. It is known for its creeping stems, which can gracefully trail off of the pond’s edge and meander through damp rocks. It is often used in the aquarium industry due to its miniature foliage. Undemanding and low maintenance, it can be cultivated as a rooted or as a floating plant.

Water pennywort can be grown as a groundcover plant for partly shaded, consistently moist substrates. Its circular, deep green leaves have a maximum diameter of around 2.4 inches (6 cm). Their slightly crenated margins soften their appearance. An abundance of healthy foliage often looks like the perfect spot for young amphibians to test their limbs.

The flowers of water pennywort are largely inconspicuous compared to its leaves. They are borne on tiny, umbel-shaped inflorescences. As they are white-colored, they may look like speckles of snow above a sea of green leaves. They are also borne on stalks that may be shorter than those of the leaves, keeping them relatively hidden.


4) Golden club (Orontium aquaticum)

Golden club in koi pond
Golden club grows best along shallow pond margins. Davepape, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the eastern United States

This flowering plant is quite unique among common pond floaters due to its specialized inflorescences. As it is a member of the Araceae family, its tiny flowers are borne on a pointy spadix. This organ is normally associated with a spathe (in the form of a lighter colored leaf), but the spathe quickly withers and disappears. What’s left are club or torch-shaped flower clusters that gracefully arch upward and have bright yellow tips.

Golden club favors conditions in the shallow margins of ponds. Its bluish or silvery green leaves have a velvety feel. They may float on or emerge through the water’s surface, which they repel. The shoot can tolerate being submerged in up to a foot (30 cm) of water. It is anchored by a rhizomatous root system which spreads more quickly in loamy substrates.

Hardy to USDA zones 8 – 10, golden club has a moderate growth rate in partial shade conditions. It may be a high-maintenance plant as it requires optimal water conditions and relatively stable water levels to flourish. Note that all of its organs contain calcium oxalate crystals and are thus mildly toxic to animals.


5) ‘James Brydon’ water lily (Nymphaea hybrid)

'James Brydon' water lily
The ‘James Brydon’ water lily is extremely tolerant of low light and can thrive in partial shade conditions. C T Johansson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Greenhouse cultivar

Developed in 1899, ‘James Brydon’ is a hardy water lily that has won the hearts of many floating plant aficionados around the globe. Though peach to yellow-colored waterlilies are more likely to tolerate shade conditions, this rose-red lily has a remarkable tolerance for low light. Hardly compromising its ability to send out stunning blooms, partial shade conditions can bring out its best features.

A day bloomer, this perennial floating plant is distinguished by its pad-like foliage whenever its flowers are absent. The showy foliage is usually an alluring shade of deep burgundy or bronze-green. They tend to have purple blotches which may fade over time. The cup-shaped flowers are normally present from summer to fall. Each one can last up to 5 days in optimal pond conditions.

‘James Brydon’ is a recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit. It can be cultivated in both small and large ponds as it can tolerate a depth range of 6 – 48 inches (15 – 122 cm). To maintain its appearance, which can look even more striking in shade, it is important to regularly remove spent leaves and flowers. Situate your waterlilies in the calmest part of your pond as they prefer undisturbed water.


6) Water mint (Mentha aquatica)

Water mint plants
Water mint can spread on its own via rhizomatous growth. H. Zell, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Europe, Africa, and Asia

A water-loving member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), M. aquatica was recognized by plant specialists as early as the mid-1700s. It has since been hybridized with many other mint species to produce lovely cultivars with a high tolerance for moisture. In the wild, it favors conditions along the banks of streams, canals, and rivers. It also readily grows along the edges of marshes, fens, dikes, and meadows.

Water mint is perfect for wildlife and ornamental ponds as it attracts a fair number of pollinators. Small animals, such as insects and young amphibians, can also seek shelter from its light green, veined foliage. The best features are brought out by dappled shade in consistently moist areas. This plant should thus be planted in the margins or edges of water features.

This hardy perennial can spread on its own via rhizomatous growth. Its delicate blooms occur on orb-shaped inflorescences at the tips of each mature shoot. Like most species within its genus, its flowers and leaves emit a distinctly minty fragrance.


7) Lizard’s tail (Saururus cernuus)

Lizard's tail
Lizard’s tail thrives in wet conditions and tolerates shaded areas. Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to eastern North America

Also known as American swamp lily or lizard’s tail, S. cernuus can be grown as an emergent plant along the shallow margins of water features. Though it favors swampy conditions, it can also be cultivated outside of the pond as long as its substrate is kept consistently saturated. Due to its readiness to thrive in wet conditions, it has been used as a wetland restoration plant. Native Americans have also exploited it for medicinal purposes.

The common name “lizard’s tail” alludes to this species’ spike-shaped inflorescences. They tend to turn brown over time, making them look uncannily like the detached tail of your typical house lizard. Prior to darkening, the tiny blooms are bright and white. These occur anytime from May to August throughout their native range.

Lizard’s tails can tolerate being situated in shaded areas, such as in the shadow of a larger shrub or under the canopy of a tree. They spread via submerged rhizomes, which can lengthen significantly to give a single plant a spread of about 3 meters (10 feet). It is thus advisable to grow this species out of pots or containers to control its spread.


8) American frogbit (Limnobium spongia)

American frogbit in pond
American frogbit is a beneficial plant, combatting algal growth, reducing spikes in water temperatures, and protecting fish from predators. Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the United States

With a knack for persisting under virtually all intensities of sun exposure, American frogbit is a hardy floating perennial. The only downside to this species’ readiness to spread and grow in imperfect conditions is its tendency to become invasive. Regardless, it remains to be extremely popular in the aquarium industry due to its desirable features.

American frogbit is distinguished by its rosettes of loosely arranged foliage. Either rounded or heart-shaped, the leaves are attached to the main stalk by thin and delicate petioles. At maturity, the leaf blades reach a maximum diameter of just 1 – 3 inches (2.5 – 7.6 cm). As a result, this species is often considered a miniature floating plant. In very shallow areas or above moist substrates, however, it can be fully rooted.

The cover provided by the attractive foliage of frogbit is quite effective at combatting algal growth, reducing spikes in water temperatures, and protecting fish and other small animals from overhead predators. Introducing a natural forager, such as a pond turtle, would be a great way to control its spread. Excessive growth can also be removed using a net. Note that this must be disposed of properly to prevent the plant’s entry into local waterways.


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

Water forget-me-not in bloom
Water forget-me-not is a delicate plant that thrives in partial shade. Benjamin Zwittnig, CC BY 2.5 SI, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Asia and Europe

Notably delicate flowers in shades of sky blue and lavender, forget-me-not blooms are a frequent favorite as they come in generous summer sprays. As suggested by the species epithet, scorpioides, the inflorescences are shaped like a scorpion’s coiled tail. The plant’s overall appearance is far from threatening, however, and is notably inviting to many pollinators.

A member of the borage family (Boraginaceae), water forget-me-not favors moist or wet habitats. In optimal conditions, its shoots may even spread out to form dense mats that float on the water’s surface. Though this may look attractive at first glance, you’ll find that the mats endanger the underwater ecology by blocking out light and oxygen. It’s always best to cut back shoots and uproot excess plants before they can overgrow your pond.

Water forget-me-not can thrive in partial shade and is relatively low-maintenance. Though its shoots and leaves tend to be pest-free, regularly monitor them for issues such as rust or mildew. For maximum appeal and moderate growth, try to restrict them to pond margins that are no more than 4 inches (10 cm) deep.


10) Umbrella palm (Cyperus alternifolius)

Umbrella palm
Umbrella palm is an interesting type of grass with stems that can grow as tall as 6 feet! David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Madagascar

Though the umbrella palm is a type of grass, it has striking features that set it apart from its plant family. The bracts of this tropical plant resemble the spokes or boning of an umbrella. Mature bracts may gracefully arch outward from the tip of the green stem, which itself looks like a thickened blade of grass. This structure gives it a light and airy appearance.

Generally, the stems can grow as tall as 4 – 6 feet (1.2 – 1.8 m) when they are situated in the appropriate environment. There are dwarf cultivars that can be situated in areas with limited spacing. Umbrella palm can grow in light shade or medium shade as long as all ambient conditions are optimized. In sunny and windy areas, the bracts may require additional protection as they can easily grow damaged from full exposure.

The roots require regularly moistened soil to spread out at a desirable pace. They can tolerate being occasionally waterlogged in fully saturated substrates. Hardy to USDA zones 8 – 11, the umbrella palm may struggle to persist in cool weather and will likely die back if left outdoors through winter. In arid areas, additional humidity may also be essential for keeping its bracts in tiptop shape.

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