Pickerelweed Facts, Care & Planting Guide (Pontederia cordata)

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Many pickerelweeds with bright purple flowers growing in a natural pond
Pickerelweed. Photo by Cephas, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Pickerelweed, also called a pickerel rush, is a standout member of the water hyacinth family native to a large swathe of North America from the Northeastern Canada down to the Caribbean, and from the East Coast inland to the Great Plains. Pickerelweed is a sizeable plant, with lance-shaped leaves averaging 13cm in width and 26cm in length (5in x 10in). It is best identified by a spike of blue-purple flowers that erupt from a single stem beneath the water.

These plants regularly reach heights of 1m (3ft). The pickerel fish, commonly known as the northern pike, has a strong preference for living amongst the shady leaves of this plant, giving it its nickname. Its scientific name, however, pays homage to an Italian botanist, Giulio Pontedera (1688-1757), who studied flowering plants as a professor at the University of Padua.

Indigenous peoples from across much of eastern North America have written about pickerelweed over the centuries. The Anishinaabe people of Ontario, Manitoba, Minnesota, and North Dakota, referred to pickerelweed as “kinozhaeguhnsh,” which translated to “pike’s plant.”  Again, this appears to be a reference to its ability to somehow attract these fish—although no specific breeding or feeding interaction between these two organisms has yet been uncovered. Several Native American tribes, including the Montagnais (Quebec and Labrador), the Micmac (Nova Scotia, P.E.I., Newfoundland), and the Malecite (New Brunswick and Maine), have reportedly used pickerelweed in medicine and steeped in tea as a general cure-all.

Does Pickerel Weed Have Any Benefits?

Many insects enjoy feeding on or seeking shelter in pickerelweeds. Damselflies and dragonflies are known to lay eggs at the plant’s base. For this reason, gardeners who want to attract dragonflies report having great success when planting pickerelweed. Pickerelweed is also a favorite of bumblebees (Bombus spp.) and other bee species, Melissodes apicatus and Dufourea novaeangliae, which preferentially scavenge pollen from pickerelweed. Sulfur butterflies may forage the plant’s nectar, and certain Borer moth larvae including that of the Pickerelweed, White-Tailed Diver, and Cattail moths (Bellura densa, Bellura gortynoides, and Bellura oblique, respectively) feed on its stalks, leaves, and petioles.

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Pickerelweed Fact Sheet:
Herbaceous Aquatic Perennial
USDA 3-10
Full Sun
June – October (Summer to Fall)
Spread Up To 60 cm (24in)
7.5-13 cm (3-5in)
pH 6.5-7.5

Pickerelweed Growth, Hardiness & Wintering

A single tall pickerelweed blooming in a fish pond with a fountain

Pickerelweed is a hearty grower and can reach a height of 1.2m (4ft) and spread of 0.6m (2ft) in diameter. These plants prefer to grow in full sunlight, and will show their environmental satisfaction by sprouting its eye-catching flowers. Flowers bloom continuously beginning in early summer and continue to do so, albeit less robustly, during the fall. Its natural habitat reaches up into Nova Scotia, indicating that Pickerelweed is capable of surviving harsher climates. It grows in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 10, meaning that it can withstand minimal winter temperatures of -40 to -37°C (-40 to -35°F).

How to Plant Pickerelweed (Pickerel Rush)

Several pickerel rush in bloom in a healthy pond
Photo by Schmiebel, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Pickerelweed can either be planted your pond margins at the start of spring, or in a pot of sandy or clay loam. These plants should be submerged in a maximum of 13cm (5in) of water. It is important to note that the fibrous root systems of pickerelweed can expand and infiltrate other areas of your pond. To prevent this, simply plant in a container. Pickerelweed can also be planted from seeds by spreading 20 to 30 live seeds per square foot or 1/3 square meter. These seeds germinate in cool, moist, loose soil so planting just beyond the pond margin or in a regularly watered pot is recommended.

How to Care for Pickerelweed (Pickerel Rush)

Pontederia cordata blooming in a pond in Spring

The most important care instructions for pickerelweed is that it must be kept wet and in direct sunlight. All other considerations such as fertilizer and temperature, are secondary. Since pickerelweed is such a great grower, it is recommended that you divide the plant every few growing seasons so it does not get too large. To do so, dig up the plant and cut through the thick mat of roots, called rhizomes, to separate out a section of healthy leaves and roots. Replant one of the sections and use the other to start a new plant.

If left unattended, pickerelweed will grow into thick colonies like they do in the wild. It is also important to keep your water levels between the base of the stem and the bottom of the leaves; water levels should exceed the height of the lowest-growing leaves.

How to Winter Pickerelweed:

To overwinter, cut back the pickerelweed and ensure the crown of the plant (the area where the stem joins the roots) is submerged in at least 10cm (4 in) of water. Pickerelweed can survive winter as long as the crown does not freeze.

Is Pickerelweed Toxic, Poisonous or Invasive?

The classification of pickerelweed as a “weed” can be considered a misnomer. Unlike other weeds that are undesirable and provide little in terms of appearance, pollinator attraction, or utility, pickerelweed is a favorite plant of gardeners and ecologists. Although they grow rapidly and across a wide range, pickerelweed has not become an invasive or noxious weed. In fact, it is considered threatened in the U.S. state of Kentucky.

Will Koi, Goldfish, & Animals Eat Pickerelweed?

Pickerelweed is edible to both animals and humans, alike. Many individuals like to harvest the spikey seeds from pickerelweed flowers collected in the fall at the end of its season.  These seeds can be roasted, eaten raw, or ground into flour, and make a delicious addition to homemade granola. Horticulturists are not the only garden dwellers that have found their pickerelweed to provide a tasty snack. Deer will voraciously feed on the leaves of this aquatic plant while ducks and muskrats prefer its seeds.

In terms of koi and goldfish, although they’re unlikely to eat the rhizomes, stem or leaves of the plant, they still may consume the seeds that happen to drop into the pond water.

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25 thoughts on “Pickerelweed Facts, Care & Planting Guide (Pontederia cordata)”

    • Hi Adetunji,

      That depends on where you buy the pickerelweed! Your best bet is to do a quick online search for pickerelweed for sale and figure out where you can get it that has a price point that works best for you. However, pickerelweed can spread fast, so each plant should be planted 2-4 feet from any others. With that in mind, you should only have 1 or 2 plants in each 1m by 1m plot. Depending on where you buy them and whether you buy seeds or bare root plants, this should range from between about $5 and $20 per plot, but again your best bet is to do a quick search to see what’s available to you.

  1. I live in Central Texas. We had a hail storm 5/27/2020 that tore up our Pickerelweed considerably. Thankfully, they had just completed a bloom cycle with just a few blooms remaining. Do you have any advice for what to do now. Do I cut them back? I’m a bit concerned we are approaching summer heat. Thank you for your help.

  2. Does anyone know if this plant is toxic to dogs? I would like to plant it in my backyard where there is a wet area. Please reply to my email. thank you!

  3. Hello, I have just acquired some Pickerelweed for a very small pond. Although I don’t want it to choke up the pond with its roots, I also would like it to spread beyond the are of the container holding it. Do you have any advice? Thanks

    • Hi Fiona,

      I would suggest floating plant shelves or a large aquatic planting basket! These are larger than containers or pots, but some designs will still control the roots while allowing more room for the plant to grow. Hope this helps!

  4. I just received some Pickerelweed bare root plants. This is my first time to have them. What do I need to do with them until I can plant them in the pots in my pond, or can I go ahead and plant now? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Kelly,

      It’s usually best to plant pickerelweed in the spring, but you can go ahead and try planting them now. There should be at least a couple of months left in the growing season (depending on your location), so it may be enough time for them to establish. Alternatively, if you have somewhere where you can store the bare roots at a temperature between approximately 33 and 40 degrees F (1-4 degrees C), this should encourage them to go dormant until you’re ready to plant them.

  5. We recently transplanted a pickererlweed and we are seeing new growth and beautiful flowers. However, the leaves all look dusty and brown. They are not green and glossy as they should be. The plant is beneath a mosquito misting system so I am wondering if it is simply the Saharan dust in the air getting stuck to the leaves. If so, how.should I clean the leaves?

    • Hi Amy,

      Using a damp rag and gently wiping them off should work. You could also simply rinse them gently with a hose or sprayer of some sort, but if they’re located in or near a pond this would cause the dust to runoff into the water.

  6. I picked one up at Lowe’s recently I put it in a small container, just wondering how long should it take before getting leaves and such? Thank you.

  7. We have had a pickerel Rush since May in our small pond. We have never had flowers and the leaves keep turning brown and dying. We have had new leaves but when they get to a certain height they turn brown. What can we do? We have a few goldfish and we have tried fertilizer.

    • Hi Gina,

      It could be transplant stress – most bog plants are best transplanted in early spring (usually March or early April) while they’re still mostly dormant, so as to minimize stress. Pickerelweed does tend to take long to recover from transplant stress, so it could be that you won’t have much luck with them this season.

      Have the leaves been turning brown from the get-go, or is this a more recent issue? If it’s more recent, this is somewhat common for pickerelweed later in the season as the plants reach maturity. You can try trimming off the brown leaves, which would help the plant devote energy to new leaves and, hopefully, flowers. Sometimes new plants can take a couple of seasons to become established enough to bloom, so I wouldn’t worry too much about the lack of flowers this year!

      Your climate may be contributing, as well. They enjoy full sunlight, but if you live in a region that has very intense sunlight and/or gets quite hot, it could be that the plant is experiencing heat stress. If you do live where there’s intense sunlight/heat, you can try providing them with partial shade. How much water are they planted in? If they’re just kept in damp soil, you can try increasing how much water they have access to.

      I know that’s a lot of potential options, but hopefully that helps you narrow down what the issue may be!

  8. Will pickerel weed take over my pond? I have a 1/4 acre pond that is 6 feet deep. Will pickerel just stick to the shallows at the edge? Thanks!

  9. Hi, I’m dividing a neglected patch of pickerel weed and want to gift it to friends. Can I let the rhizomes dry and keep them in a dry, dark place, so others can plant them in their ponds later? Or do I need to select rhizomes with green attached and store them in pots submerged in water?

  10. Thanks so much for this great info! I have a small pond and would love to grow pickerelweed. However, our yard also connects to a county park and we get regular deer visitors. Should I even bother?

    • Hi Carrie,

      If you are living with its native range (eastern and southern North America), then I would give it a go! Perhaps start the pickerelweed in a protected area in pots or fencing, and then transfer them once they are more mature. They are hardy growers, though, so deer browsing on the pickerelweed could be a boon and help to control overgrowth.

  11. My farm pond goes from 1 foot to 6-8 ft. If I plant pickerelweed at the edge of the pond will it stop growing in the deeper water (more than 2 feet deep) As i don’t mind growing around the edges, just dont want it to over take the pond.

  12. Will Pickerelweed ever grow beyond 2 feet depth of water? As i want to make sure before i plant that it wont start spreading and taking over my farm pond as it only go to about 6 feet deep? Thanks for any feedback!


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