18 US Native Pond Edge Plants (Top Species)

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Plants along pond edge
Pond edge plants provide a host of benefits, from reducing shoreline erosion to providing a haven for wildlife. daryl_mitchell / CC BY-SA 2.0

The edges of natural ponds are usually dotted with a diversity of emergent plants. Though these marginals are rooted into bottom substrates situated just below a few inches of water, their shoot is largely exposed to the atmosphere. Due to their semi-aquatic nature, many of them have evolved to tolerate brief periods of dryness and flooding. These coincide with seasonal changes throughout the year.

Cultivating the right set of pond edge plants is the best way to naturalize a wildlife pond. Their sheer variety of morphological features also leaves room for creativity and ecological functionality. For example, emergent irises can help soften the water’s edge, add vertical dimension to the pond setup, and provide seasonal interest all while providing protection to pond visitors and resident fish.

Apart from these benefits, pond edge plants can aid in the maintenance of optimal water conditions, reduce shoreline erosion rates, open niches for a range of small animals and microbes to occupy, and hide unsightly materials like pond liners, mesh, and plastic piping. The best ones to grow are, of course, those that are native to your area. These can create a haven for local flora and fauna without compromising wild plant communities.

A word of caution: as many of the plants below may be less popular than imported ornamentals, they may be difficult to find in local garden centers and nurseries. It may be tempting to collect specimens from the wild, but this is not recommended. Whenever possible, try to obtain divisions or cuttings from reputable sources or from other pond keepers in your community.

1) Broadleaf arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia)

Broadleaf arrowhead plants
Broadleaf arrowhead’s smooth leaves vary in size, with a maximum length of up to 19 inches if conditions are optimal. Udo Schmidt from Deutschland, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the Americas

As its common name suggests, this emergent perennial produces leaves that are distinctly shaped like smoothened arrowheads. These have veins arising from the central stalk and extending toward the margins. Varied in size, with some leaves measuring up to 19 inches (48 cm) long in optimal environments, these are borne on stiff and upright petioles. The aerial rosette is anchored by a network of tuberous roots.

Found along the wet banks of ponds, lakes, rivers, and swamps, broadleaf arrowhead can easily be cultivated in a few inches of standing water. Also called “duck potato”, this elegant pond plant has a rich history due to its edible, starch-rich tubers. Several Native American tribes once regularly harvested these. Safe to consume in their raw form, the tubers are also prized by herbivorous waterfowl and small mammals.

2) Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

Pickerelweed in pond
Pickerelweed is an emergent wetland plant that is specially adapted to tolerate seasonal floods and waterlogged conditions. gailhampshire / CC BY 2.0

Native to the Americas

If your outdoor pond needs some late summer color, this wetland plant may be a fine choice. As an emergent species, it has adaptations for tolerating waterlogged conditions and seasonal floods. Its stems contain aerenchyma, a type of tissue with large air pockets, permitting gas exchange between the root and shoot. This feature gives it a competitive edge in drawdown zones, where water levels regularly fluctuate. Spring floods may boost its growth, allowing for a bounty of purple floral spikes once moisture conditions stabilize.

Found along the margins of wild ponds and lakes, pickerelweed has rapidly gained popularity as an ornamental plant due to its ease of care and attractive morphology. Its wild populations are able to persist through natural disasters, mostly due to their capacity to produce large amounts of seeds. Once these are buried, they may remain dormant up until the perfect conditions arise.

3) Common cattail (Typha latifolia)

Common cattails
Common cattail is known to spread extensively and aggressively, so it’s recommended to restrict its roots to containers. Tsungam, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa

The common or broadleaf cattail is one of the most ubiquitous components of a natural pond’s edges. This notable member of the Typhaceae family has both ethnobotanical and ecological uses; it has edible parts and can be used in wetland restoration. It is set apart by its floral spikes, which are shaped like cigars or sausages. As they develop into tufts of fluffy seeds, they may eventually resemble the appearance of a cat’s tail. The seeds tend to germinate in patches of moist substrates, especially if they are located along a freshwater shoreline.

Colonies of the common cattail can spread both extensively and aggressively in organically enriched areas with moderately warm temperatures. If you’d like to grow this species around an ornamental or wildlife pond, it is advisable to restrict its rhizomatous roots to within containers. You may also deadhead its inflorescences before they can dispel seeds. Additionally, keep in mind that it may hybridize with T. angustifolia – a non-native relative with a weed-like rate of spread.

4) Golden club (Orontium aquaticum)

Golden club by pond edge
The golden club is a perfect choice for any garden pond, with its smooth, lance-shaped leaves and bright yellow spadix! Daderot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the eastern US

The sole living member of its genus, Orontium, the golden club is a fantastic hydrophyte for adding color and complexity to shallow water systems. Often grown as an ornamental plant along the borders of garden ponds, it sports both emersed and fully submerged features. Its smooth, lance-shaped leaves may float or jut through the surface of water. These arise in a compact, rosette formation from a network of self-spreading rhizomes.

In spring, well-established golden club specimens send out spikes of their tiny inflorescences. Like other members of the Araceae family, the golden club’s blooms are found on a specialized, bright yellow spike – the spadix. The blooms themselves are largely inconspicuous and may quickly wither away. These remain well above the water’s surface in zones with relatively still or slow currents.

5) Southern blue flag (Iris virginica)

Southern blue flag in bloom
Southern blue flag is great for stabilizing the shoreline as it has a preference for depths of up to 6 inches. Susan Blayney, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to central and eastern North America

A true gem along the shorelines of lakes, ponds, swamps, slow-moving streams, and meadows in moderately warm wetlands, the southern blue flag looks best in late spring; this is when it is most likely to produce its show-stopping blooms. Blue to deep purple, with distinct veins and complementary yellow tinges, the flowers are borne on floral stalks measuring up to 2 – 3 feet (61 – 91 cm) tall. The sword-shaped leaves, which arise from the crown of the plant, may rival this height.

This US native is a fine choice for medium to large ponds, where it can spread on its own to form an emergent colony. In USDA hardiness zones 5 – 9, it thrives in standing water. As it prefers to remain at a depth of up to just 6 inches (15 cm), it is perfect for stabilizing the shoreline. It may be grown in a pond’s outer borders as well, but note that the roots will require regular irrigation.

6) Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata var. minor)

Bogbean flower
Bogbean flowers have a fuzzy appearance due to the white hairs that can be found on each petal! peupleloup, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America

The bogbean or buckbean is typically found along the shallow, outer zones of bogs, natural ponds, and fens. This marginal plant thrives best in pristine, peaty wetlands, where its rhizomes are free to create horizontal mazes of thick, clumping roots. These send out lengthy, upright leaf stalks with trios of olive-green leaflets. Each of the veined leaflets measures around 4 inches (10 cm) long.

Bogbean colonies are particularly attractive to pollinators due to their textural inflorescences. Made up of inch-long, white to light purple blooms, these may have a fuzzy appearance due to the white hairs on the surface of each petal. These supposedly aid in the accumulation of pollen from visiting flies, bees, and butterflies, increasing the flowers’ chances of successful fertilization.

7) Soft rush (Juncus effusus)

Soft rush
In areas with mild to warm winters, soft rush is capable of being evergreen and thus provides year-round texture. Matt Lavin / CC BY-SA 2.0

Native to the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa

One of the most widespread members of the Juncaceae family, the soft rush is known for its many uses. It is a versatile, perennial herb with a knack for thriving along the margins of garden and wildlife ponds. Specific parts of the US tend to have their own subspecies of soft rush. Regardless of their genetic differences, these produce self-spreading clumps that send out cylindrical stems with fine bracts.

A well-established clump of soft rush can boast a height of up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) in optimal conditions. They can tolerate wet soils and may persist as an emergent feature in zones with 3 – 5 inches (7.6 – 12.7 cm) of standing water. The stems do become yellow and are likely to die back once they are exposed to low temperatures. They may remain evergreen in regions with mild to warm winters, making them a desirable form of year-round texture and coverage for shorelines.

8) Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Swamp milkweed flowers
While swamp milkweed’s attractive flowers draw in lots of pollinators, the plant’s toxic, milky latex also repels a number of leaf-eating insects and herbivores! Joshua Mayer / CC BY-SA 2.0

Native to the central and eastern US

Fancy a seasonal visit from monarch butterflies? This water-loving perennial is perfect for creating pollinator-friendly borders around a rain garden or ornamental pond. Though it attracts migratory butterflies and other friendly pollinators, it repels many herbivores and leaf-eating insects by producing a toxic, milky latex. Its presence along the edges of a naturalized pond should benefit other native plants.

A mature swamp milkweed may grow up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall and measure up to 3 feet (91 cm) wide. When provided with full sun and slightly acidic substrates, it can be relied upon to consistently produce showy clusters of soft-pink to light-purple blooms in spring. Like the rest of the plant, the blooms also contain traces of toxic compounds.

9) American water plantain (Alisma subcordatum)

American water plantain
The American water plantain does produce foliage, but it eventually rots after coming into contact with the water. Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to central and eastern North America

An emergent, aquatic plant that thrives best in either still or slow-moving freshwater, the American water plantain is typically devoid of leaves. Though it does produce foliage, those that come into contact with water eventually rot. These leave behind lengthy, fine stems that may extend through the water’s surface. The stems are borne on corms that produce networks of fibrous roots within the upper layers of mud.

Though this water plantain’s roots are able to spread on their own, they do so in a markedly slow manner. For this reason, the species is chiefly dispersed via its seeds. From June to September, tiny white or yellow blooms appear on the tips of bare branches. These spritely flowers develop into achenes that attract various wetland birds. The birds thus serve as major vectors for this species’ spread.

10) Western marsh spider lily (Hymenocallis liriosme)

Western marsh spider lily in bloom
Western marsh spider lilies are relatively low-maintenance and pest-free, but they don’t do so well in dried-out soil. Eric Hunt, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the southeastern US

Named for the spider-like morphology of its fragrant blooms, the western marsh spider lily is an elegant perennial for the edges of water features. This stunning herb likes to have its feet in consistently moist or wet soil. It is naturally found along the edges of ditches, swamps, natural ponds, and marshes. Once it is well-established, it can survive through brief periods of flooding. Its emergent stems look particularly graceful when they are situated in 1 – 2 inches (2.5 – 5 cm) of standing water.

Able to grow to about 2 feet (61 cm) tall, this spider lily is a charming addition to ornamental ponds and rain gardens. It thrives best in USDA zones 7 – 10, especially in zones receiving full sun to partial shade. Though it is low-maintenance and generally pest-free, it may struggle to survive in soils that are allowed to dry out. If your pond’s water levels fluctuate and drop in summer, its roots may require supplementary irrigation. Bulbs that have grown dormant in winter do not need to be watered.

11) Woodland stonecrop (Sedum ternatum)

Woodland stonecrop
The woodland stonecrop is a succulent herb that grows best in soil with ample drainage. Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to eastern North America

Some succulent herbs can thrive along the edges of a pond too! This fleshy-leaved stonecrop is a fantastic choice for pond edges that could use a mat-like network of low-growing shoots. Though it is typically found in the forest understory, along streambanks where its fleshy leaves can glow in dappled shade, it may be used as a ground cover crop around ornamental ponds with controlled water levels. Unlike the plants listed above, however, this species prefers to be in soils with ample drainage. It is best situated just beyond the shoreline zone.

Remarkably easy to propagate, this stonecrop can be used to naturalize your pond’s borders in almost no time. Simply obtain cuttings and plant them in moist, fertile soil. In spring to summer, these should readily form new roots and spread to create a textural colony. These are great for filling in gaps in rocky edges and artificial borders.

12) Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

Restricting switchgrass’ roots to a container or pot can help to control its excessive spread. Matt Lavin / CC BY-SA 2.0

Native to North America

An incredibly adaptable member of the Poaceae family, switchgrass can thrive in a wide range of habitats. Though it can become well-established in prairies and in fairly dry locations, it can be used as a landscape focal point in frequently moistened environments and along the edges of a pond. Its sturdy roots tolerate both wet and dry soils as long as the leaves are exposed to full sun. They are ideal for shorelines that require stabilization.

To prevent switchgrass from creating aggressive colonies around a wildlife or ornamental pond, its roots may be restricted to within a pot or mesh container. As its leaves grow to about 3 – 6 feet (0.9 – 1.8 meters) tall in optimal conditions, they can create a natural screen. In late summer, stalks of floral panicles may rise above the foliage and beckon wild visitors to the pond side.

13) Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

Marsh marigold in water
Marsh marigold strongly prefers wet conditions and grows best in areas with full sun. Wolfmann, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere

Marsh marigold is also known as cowslip or kingcup. In the wild, this flowering perennial dots the banks of freshwater features. As its species epithet, palustris, suggests, it has a strong preference for wet conditions. Ample moisture and full sun positively influence its rate of growth. In swampy environments, a well-established specimen may grow to about 2 feet (61 cm) tall and may spread on its own to create a vibrant carpet of bright green foliage.

Showy, bright yellow blooms enliven healthy marsh marigold stands from April to June. Flowering times may vary depending on ambient temperatures and sun exposure rates. In cooler regions, the eye-catching blooms tend to appear later. A close inspection of the blooms reveals that their corollas are densely edged with dozens of stamens; these attract hoverflies and bees.

14) Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Cardinal flowers
If you wish to attract pollinators, cardinal flower is a great choice! The blooms’ throats are even long enough for the ruby-throated hummingbird’s beak to fit. Laval University, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the Americas

For dramatic splashes of seasonal color around a pond, try planting spritely stands of cardinal flowers. Naturally found along the banks of rivers, streams, and other woodland water features, this flowering perennial is a must-have for pollinator gardens. Its deep red blooms have narrow, lengthy throats that can comfortably accommodate the ruby-throated hummingbird’s (Archilochus colubris) beak.

As the cardinal flower’s shoot can grow to about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall, this species can be used to create a dense backdrop on the far end of a water feature or rain garden. It favors moist to wet soil and is able to tolerate seasonal floods. Full to partial sun benefits the leafy, unbranching stems. In the wild, these tend to arise in clumps.

15) Hardy canna (Thalia dealbata)

Hardy canna in pond
Hardy canna can often be found in shallow, ornamental ponds as a focal point. Lip Kee / CC BY-SA 2.0

Native to the southern & central US

Tufts of hardy canna can be grown as a focal point in the center of a shallow, ornamental pond. They can also be arranged along the marginal zone to help naturalize or hide a well-defined perimeter. This fantastic plant is able to tolerate up to 18 inches (46 cm) of water above its hardy crown. In winter, it can be cut back and moved deeper into water features to protect its roots from harsh aerial temperatures.

In the wild, this member of the Marantaceae family is found in swamps and other moderately warm wetland habitats. Due to its self-spreading rhizomes, it can produce extensive colonies. As an emergent plant, it can produce lengthy basal leaves and floral stalks that tower over them. The complex, white to deep purple blooms are borne on 4 to 18-inch (10 to 46-cm) long panicles.

16) White turtlehead (Chelone glabra)

White turtlehead inflorescence
The white turtlehead produces showy inflorescences that attract a variety of hummingbirds and butterflies. R. A. Nonenmacher, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America

This moisture-loving herb owes its common name to its bloom’s resemblance to a turtle’s head. Its white to pink blooms are found on terminal spikes that last for weeks. The showy inflorescences are irresistible to hummingbirds and butterflies. The Baltimore checkerspot, which is endemic to this plant’s natural range, lays its eggs on the leaves. Its larvae, along with those of a few sawflies and beetles, may feed on the leaves.

Found along streambanks in riparian forests, open woodlands, and marshes, white turtlehead thrives best in partial shade. As its roots tolerate wet soil, it can be grown on the edge of an ornamental or wildlife pond. In the absence of its summer blooms, its deep green mounds of lance-shaped leaves steal the show. To draw more pollinators to the garden, this species can be cultivated next to swamp milkweed (A. incarnata).

17) Swamp mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Swamp mallow flower
Swamp mallow’s large, eye-catching blooms vary in color depending on the cultivar! Ian Gratton from Sutton-n-Craven, North Yorkshire, England, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to eastern and southern North America

The swamp mallow is found in floodplains, moist meadows, riparian forests, marshes, and swamps. It grows along the banks of freshwater systems, where the soil is most likely to be moist or wet. This flowering perennial can tolerate brief flooding periods, so it is a wise choice for rain gardens, low spots in the landscape, and pond edges. Its hardy roots can persist in marginal zones with a few inches of standing water.

When provided with full sun exposure and organically enriched substrates, the swamp mallow can grow to a full height of about 6 – 7 feet (1.8 – 2.1 meters). It is perfect for wildlife ponds, where its strong, leafy stems can provide shade and protection for small animals. The vigorous shoots produce large flowers with delicate petals. Depending on the cultivar, these may be white, pink, red, or burgundy. These spectacularly contrast the shrub’s deep-green, serrated leaves.

18) Rough horsetail (Equisetum hyemale)

Rough horsetails
When planted in dense clumps, rough horsetail almost resembles a miniature bamboo forest! Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to North America, Europe, and Asia

The rough horsetail thrives in consistently moist environments, such as the shorelines of ponds, lakes, and swamps. Most notable for its seemingly segmented stems, which have dark-colored bands along each node or joint, it has an unforgettable morphology. When it is neatly planted in dense clumps and provided with enough resources to grow to its full height, it creates the illusion of vertical order or structure – much like that found in a miniature bamboo forest.

Hardy and evergreen in regions with mild to warm winters, this slender, seemingly leafless fern can be used to fill out gaps in wet spots where little else will grow. Able to spread via a network of rhizomes or through the dispersal of its spores, it can compete with many native plants to produce extensive colonies. Thus, this species is best restricted to sunken containers or large planters that can hold water.

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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