12 Duck-Safe Pond Plants That Ducks Love 2022 [Updated]
Waterfowl are important components in and visitors to natural freshwater systems. They are integral parts of the food chain, regulating the size of fish, amphibian, and invertebrate populations by feeding in the water. They also forage on potentially invasive algae and weeds, keeping their biomass at healthy levels. Apart from providing top-down control of food, they act as vectors for the dispersal of many plants and microbes.
Ducks are some of the most valuable feathery guests of any wildlife pond. If they bring a brood of ducklings with them, all the better! Their needs can be sustained by ecologically balanced waterbodies, where their feeding activity should help aquatic juveniles thrive. Needless to say, their environmental services are complemented by their regal appearance in the water, where they can float and swim with ease.
While ducks can happily spend the day in ponds without vegetation, such as those commonly seen in public parks, their quality of life can be improved by plants. Nutrient-cycling species that thrive along the water’s margins draw more potential prey items into a pond system while reinforcing its edges. Moreover, they aid in the conversion of duck waste into harmless byproducts. Grow the following species below for a nourishing, duck-safe pond!
1) Yellow-flag iris (Iris pseudacorus)
Popular as an ornamental pond plant due to its sword-shaped leaves, vivid blooms, and sturdy shoots, the yellow-flag iris is a fantastic marginal. Its shoots can grow to about 5 – 6 feet (1.5 – 1.8 meters) tall in optimal conditions, making dense stands add significant vertical dimension to the pond side. Its roots grow best in shallow water, where the crown is constantly bathed and the shoots form an underwater maze.
This species is a duck-safe plant as it does not contain poisonous compounds and is generally harmless when consumed by herbivorous waterfowl. The emergent shoots provide ample cover for ducks and their ducklings to safely enter and exit bodies of water. Tolerant of full sun to dappled shade, fertile shoots produce their blooms from June to July.
Irises attract a wealth of pollinators which aid in the reproduction of other pond plants and serve as potential food for ducks. This particular species has cultivars that have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit. These include ‘Variegata’ and ‘Roy Davidson’. Grow these alongside shorter grasses to give your duck pond ample texture.
2) Soft rush (Juncus effusus)
The seeds of soft rush serve as a rich source of nutrients to many animals, including waterfowl, terrestrial birds, and small mammals. Often overlooked on the pond’s edge when more striking ornamentals are present, this rush plays several important roles wherever it is found. Its densely gathered shoots are vital for keeping pond visitors protected from predators. When situated in water, the submerged portion of the plant is home to fingerlings and many aquatic invertebrates.
This versatile rush can easily take root in sandy and moist substrates. Its mature shoots can measure a maximum height of about 5 feet (1.5 meters). In late spring to summer, they may produce yellow to brown inflorescences with dense and messy clusters of flowers. The dry capsules these develop into once pollinated, are, of course, what many grazers look forward to each summer.
While the soft rush is an environmentally important species, it can also become quite destructive in optimal conditions. It can spread quickly and compete with other types of pondside vegetation. Ducks, geese, and the plant’s natural grazers should help limit its spread. To restrict the roots, you may also grow this plant in submerged pots or containers.
3) Coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum)
One of the most common types of submerged plants for tanks and ponds, the coontail is favored for many reasons. Its whorled, needle-like foliage on shoots that move with the current significantly adds to the surface area on which beneficial microbes and algae can form colonies. Popularized by the aquarium industry, this species is safe for practically all types of freshwater life. It can serve as a natural food source for herbivorous waterfowl.
With shoots that can grow up to 10 feet (3 meters) long in brightly lit ponds, mature coontail may have the appearance of an underwater bush. Fingerlings, amphibians, and aquatic larvae tend to hide amongst its needle-like leaves. To the benefit of all pond life, colonies that are well-maintained significantly aid in nutrient cycling and act as oxygenators.
As coontail can quickly spread via fragmentation and the production of seeds, ducks may act as a form of biological control. They can safely feed on the shoots and fresh seeds of the plant. They can also feed on aquatic insects that may be hiding amongst the leaves. Without grazers, coontail can quickly crowd out a wildlife pond and make it difficult for larger animals to swim and hunt.
4) Greater pond sedge (Carex riparia)
The greater pond sedge is fairly large among its congeners as its stems can grow up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall. Its leaves can grow a few inches longer, arching gracefully once they’ve reached their maximum length. In its native range, it tends to be a dominant species. The thickest stands grow wherever there are other established species of Carex (e.g. C. acuta and C. acutiformis) and slow-moving or still water.
This species’ distinguishing feature is its flowering spikes, which appear in summer. Compared to those of its closest relatives, it produces denser clusters of male spikes along the tops of each fertile stalk. Each plant has both male and female spikes which undergo fertilization via wind pollination. This means of reproduction, along with the spread of rhizomes, facilitates rapid spread.
A variegated cultivar of the greater pond sedge is frequently used as an ornamental plant in moist areas. It would, of course, thrive along the edges of high-nutrient ponds. Ducks may regularly crop its leaves for food or for use as nesting materials. Fortunately, this hardy plant can persist through substantial grazing or damage.
5) Water celery (Vallisneria americana)
In terms of appearance, this submerged freshwater plant resembles sea grass. It belongs to a family of tape-grasses (Hydrocharitaceae) which are able to tolerate a wide range of conditions, including slightly saline water. Its common name is a bit of a misnomer as it doesn’t actually resemble celery and is not considered a vegetable. It is, however, a great food source for many animals.
The canvasback (Aythya valisineria), which is the largest diving duck in all of North America, is known for consuming the fronds of this productive plant. In fact, the scientific name of water celery figured prominently when taxonomists gave the duck its own identity as a unique species. Other animals that feed on the grassy leaves include the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), herbivorous fish, and opportunistic invertebrates.
Also known as eel grass, this plant is able to quickly spread on its own through an underground system of runners. Mature colonies may resemble the appearance of a meadow that sways in the direction of water flow. These aid in filtering particles and toxins from the water while reinforcing the stability of the sediment.
6) Broadleaf arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia)
A common emergent plant along the shorelines of ponds and swamps, the broadleaf arrowhead is a duck-friendly perennial. Depending on the extent of its root growth and on the quality of its environment, a mature specimen can grow up to a shocking 65 feet (20 meters) long! Its colonies can be dense enough to fully cover the ground, creating a structurally complex bush where many animals can hide and rest.
As an emergent pond plant, the broadleaf arrowhead creates a vital microhabitat for young fish and aquatic larvae. Its shoots emerge from buried, starch-rich, and edible tubers. Interestingly, these tubers are also referred to as “duck potatoes”. Though the plant itself is duck-safe, ducks don’t necessarily eat the tubers because these are usually too deep for them to retrieve. If they are shallow enough, however, they can indeed serve as energy-rich duck food.
Ducks also consume the seeds of these species, which usually appear right after the summer bloom period. They can actively help prevent the plant from self-seeding and taking over the pond’s entire shoreline.
7) Mare’s tail (Hippuris vulgaris)
A common freshwater species, this plant is often found creeping along the shorelines of shallow ponds, streams, ditches, and swamps. As its roots are usually situated a few inches below the water’s surface, it is considered an emergent or marginal species. Its appearance above the water is somewhat comparable to how coontail colonies look underwater. Another similarity between these two herbs is their capacity for weed-like growth.
In terms of having whorled leaves extending from the nodes of a segmented stem, mare’s tail is similar to other horsetails. Despite their vivid red coloration, the summer blooms are quite inconspicuous due to their minute size. The orientation of the stems, which can measure up to 2 feet (61 cm) long, is affected by the presence of a current. While colonies along rivers may appear bent, those in stagnant ponds remain straight.
Many types of animals, including wild ducks and goats, are able to feed on mare’s tail shoots. Despite its herbal uses, its ingestion is not generally associated with unfavorable symptoms. These grazers are important as they help can help prevent this species from spreading uncontrollably. If you intend to grow this in your pond, consider restricting its roots to within a submerged pot or basket.
8) Smooth frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum)
Also known as the South American spongeplant, smooth frogbit is a small-sized floating plant with leaves that measure about 2 – 6 inches (5 – 15 cm) in length. It may look like an enlarged version of smaller duckweed species. Commonly found in slow-moving streams, lakes, and ponds, it is suitable for cultivation in tanks and ornamental water features. In wildlife ponds, its features bring many benefits to waterfowl, insects, and aquatic invertebrates.
Smooth frogbit thrives best in waters with high nutrient levels and ample light exposure. Though it can produce seeds, it is capable of spreading vegetatively via fragmentation. Once segments of its stolons are separated from the mother plant, they can begin to generate their own shoots and new leaves. This species’ capacity for rapid spread has led to its designation as a pest plant in some areas, so it must be grown with caution.
Ducks can safely consume smooth frogbit as it is devoid of harmful compounds and harsh features. In fact, it is sometimes used as a green feed for ducks, geese, and chickens. The foraging activity of waterfowl can help reduce its coverage of the pond. Do note, however, that wild birds can be vectors for its dispersal into natural waterways.
9) Hard rush (Juncus inflexus)
Compared to the soft rush, the hard rush is slightly more tolerant of dry conditions. If you’re looking for a highly textural, duck-friendly species for your pond’s drier borders, this perennial may be perfect. It forms dense colonies of bluish-green stems which are stiff and somewhat brittle to the touch. Unlike those of the soft rush, this plant’s stems are devoid of leaves.
Given its seemingly architectural features, the hard rush can add vertical dimension to and help naturalize the pond side. Its mature stems can encourage more wild animals, including waterfowl, to make their way into the pond. Although these can be quite difficult for animals to graze on, they are considered duck-safe in the sense that they are “duck-proof” or able to easily persist around large populations of grazing ducks without posing harm.
If you intend to place this plant along the margins of the pond, aim to restrict its root systems to a maximum depth of about 3 inches (8 cm). With exposure to full sun, constant moisture, and neutral to slightly alkaline substrates, this pest-free rush should quickly become established. As it is fairly tolerant of urban pollution, it is also an ideal choice for developed areas.
10) Broadleaf cattail (Typha latifolia)
The quintessential plant for wildlife ponds, the broadleaf cattail or bulrush is a hardy and versatile perennial. Its signature flower spikes usually give its identity away. Hotdog-shaped and comparable to the appearance of a brown cat’s tail, these may arise in the hundreds from a single mature plant. A cosmopolitan wetland species, it produces seeds that can be transported over considerable distances via water or wind.
The broadleaf cattail is a valuable resource for waterfowl. Ducks can make use of its fruits as soft nesting material. The seeds may also serve as food to some ducks, though these rarely make up a significant portion of their diets. Various waterfowl are able to consume the shoots, whereas herbivorous mammals may feed on the roots and entire stems.
This species is beneficial when it is present in limited quantities. In optimal conditions and in the absence of other competitive, native plants, it can form dense colonies and restructure the vegetative profile of freshwater shorelines. It can survive in markedly low temperatures and in systems with brackish water.
11) Swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)
The blooms of this flowering perennial are like miniature versions of larger sunflowers. Vivid yellow and showy, they can add brightness to the pondside and attract many important pollinators and songbirds. Favoring conditions in the wetland regions of coastal plains, their roots thrive best in sandy to loamy substrates that are consistently moistened and exposed to full sun.
In 2007, this lovely species was declared the North Carolina Wildflower of the Year. As it blooms late in the season, specifically towards the end of summer and the beginning of fall, it should be situated next to other flowering plants with an earlier bloom period. This way, the season for pondside blooms can be prolonged.
The swamp sunflower can measure anywhere from 5 – 8 feet (1.5 – 2.4 meters) tall after a few years of growth. Its narrow leaves provide ample coverage to visiting wildlife. Its seeds, which are produced in fall, can serve as food for many small birds. Safe for ducks, well-established specimens are able to tolerate moderate grazing.
12) Pennsylvania smartweed (Persicaria pensylvanica)
Also known as pinkweed, this herb is a remarkably important plant for many waterfowl communities in the US and Canada. It can serve as a predominant part of the diet of many ducks due to its nutritional profile and widespread distribution. As the smartweed is rich in fiber and digestible carbohydrates, some breeding ducks may rely on its seeds for energy throughout the mating and egg-laying season.
An annual herb, P. pensylvanica is distinguished by its ribbed shoots, tapered leaves, and pink inflorescences. Though small, the flowers are quite showy as they are densely arranged in 1 to 2-inch (2.5 – 5 cm) spikes. Their nectar is highly favored by butterflies, moths, bees, and beetles. Once pollinated, the blooms develop into dry, disc-shaped seeds.
The smartweed grows in many types of moist and open environments, including canals, ditches, swamps, marshes, and lakes. Its roots can quickly become established in a wide range of soil types as long as they remain consistently moist. They can also be among the first semi-aquatic plants to colonize disturbed habitats, including agricultural land.