List of Native Texas Pond Plants
Remarkably diverse and full of some of the hardiest plants around, Texas has its own unique communities of freshwater flora. As the state can be split into several ecoregions, each with a different set of ambient conditions due to their varied landscapes, its pond plants come in many forms. Regardless of their growth habits, they are some of the most beneficial components in waterways and wetland ecosystems.
The aquatic plants of Texas play several crucial roles in natural, wildlife, and ornamental ponds. Fully submerged species create vertical structures and can serve as abundant forms of food and shelter for many fish and macroinvertebrates. Marginal and edge plants create a buffer zone between ponds and the surrounding environment while protecting the shoreline from erosion.
Regardless of where they are found, these pond plants help maintain optimal nutrient concentrations by serving as natural filters and competing with algae. If you’re interested in cultivating your own community of aquatic plants in Texas, try to stick to these native species for both their benefits and their ornamental value.
1) American lotus (Nelumbo lutea)
A member of the waterlily family (Nymphaeaceae), the American lotus is a stunning aquatic plant. With features that can elegantly shift the appearance of both ornamental and wildlife ponds, it is now widely hybridized and cultivated in garden centers. In the wild, however, its natural populations have unfortunately declined due to habitat loss.
Introduced into many parts of the US as a food source, the American lotus is anchored by a tuberous rhizome, which spreads horizontally in a creeping manner. In swamps, lakes, and ponds, these rhizomes give way to emergent plant structures. The round leaves, usually found either floating on or suspended above the water’s surface, are attached to petioles that can measure as much as 2 meters (6.6 feet) long.
The late spring to summer blooms of this lotus tend to be pale yellow or white. These are gracefully perched on stalks that jut through the water’s surface, appearing to defy gravity. A single flower can grow as wide as a plate and have as many as 25 flawless petals!
2) Water stargrass (Heteranthera dubia)
The water stargrass is a charming aquatic herb that maintains a largely submerged habit wherever it is found. Also referred to as grassleaf mudplantain, it favors alkaline conditions in moderately deep to shallow freshwater systems. Well-established colonies can be found in the shoreline or along depths of up to 5.5 meters (18 feet) in rivers or lakes.
As this perennial species is attractive, low-maintenance, and generally hardy, it is an ideal choice for naturalizing both earthen bottoms and pond margins in Texas. Distinguished by tufts of grass-like leaves, it can spread via stem fragmentation or seed dispersal. Seeds or fragments that wash ashore can actually grow on damp land, creating a green corridor through which many critters may pass as they enter or exit the pond’s perimeter.
Named for its starlike, yellow blooms, water stargrass produces floral stems that are long enough to emerge through the water’s surface. This allows various pollinators to gain access to the flowers from June to September. As the flowers need to be clear of the surface, they tend to be more abundant in shallow colonies.
3) Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)
Pickerelweed is an emergent or marginal pond plant with a knack for spreading vigorously in optimal environments. It is usually found in the shallow shorelines (with depths of up to 12 inches or 30 cm) of natural ponds, streams, rivers, bogs, and lakes. It spreads via a network of underground rhizomes. Its stems and roots have adaptations for surviving through periodic floods and unfavorable oxygen conditions.
A recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit, pickerelweed is a fantastic option for the margins of both ornamental and wildlife ponds. Its late summer blooms, which are an alluring shade of purple, attract all sorts of bees throughout the season. A fertile substrate tends to encourage the production of more inflorescences. The seeds produced by these are edible and can be processed into nutritious grains.
4) Coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum)
Also known as hornwort, coontail is one of the most commonly cultivated aquarium plants. This freshwater species typically grows as a fully submerged herb with stems that may measure as long as 3 meters (9.8 feet) in adequately deep and sunlit systems. It is distinguished by its clusters of threadlike leaves; as these are arranged in whorls along the full length of the stems, they may give the plant a bushy appearance.
Many pond owners may shy away from growing coontail because of its capacity to spread via fragmentation. Healthy stem segments can produce their own root systems or survive as free-floating plants for some time. High nutrient concentrations encourage the stems to proliferate and potentially outgrow other aquatic flora. If their spread is well-managed, however, they can serve as crucial breeding grounds and as a source of food for many small animals.
5) Spatterdock (Nuphar lutea)
An aquatic plant with many uses in the fields of medicine and research, spatterdock is another notable member of the Nymphaeaceae family. Its long list of common names, which include yellow water-lily, cow lily, brandy bottle, and pond poppy, is a testament to its widespread nature and its importance in the history of freshwater plants.
Nuphar lutea is typically found in stagnant or slow-moving bodies of freshwater. Given its tolerance for various altitudes and pH conditions, it is found in a diversity of lakes, ponds, streams, ditches, canals, and swamps. Wherever its moderately-sized colonies are found, it plays several crucial roles in the environment. These include serving as a source of food and as shelter for virtually any aquatic animal that needs cover.
Spatterdock blooms begin to emerge around 3 years after their seeds germinate. They take a few days to develop and eventually open anytime between mid-spring and fall. The bright yellow color of their petals, coupled with their sweetly-scented nectar, attracts beneficial bees and flies. Once they are fertilized, they begin to develop into seed heads that contain as many as 400 seeds!
6) American pondweed (Potamogeton nodosus)
In the US, P. nodosus is the most widespread species in its genus of mostly freshwater pondweeds. It is generally found as a submersed aquatic plant in neutral to alkaline lakes and river systems. Its shoots are set apart by their relatively lengthy petioles, which can grow up to 5 inches (12.7 cm) long. This length gives the leaves enough flexibility to move in the direction of the water’s flow.
Apart from adding structure to the water column, the shoots of this aquatic plant are heavily utilized by small fish, waterfowl, and many other types of wildlife in natural ponds. The leaves are generally safe for herbivorous macroinvertebrates to consume. As their communities are enriched by the presence of this plant, larger predators may also be sustained to create a more complex and self-sustaining system.
The inflorescences of this large pondweed characteristically emerge through the water’s surface. The flowers are quite inconspicuous, especially as they are green to brown in color. Though the flowers may not be as attractive compared to those of other ornamental pond plants, their presence may signify rich waters.
7) Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia)
Named for the arrow-like shape of its well-defined foliage, S. latifolia grows as an emergent perennial. In fertile freshwater systems with calm shorelines, its colonies can spread to create dense borders of upright leaf stalks. The stalks are borne on starch-rich tubers; these have a taste that has been likened to that of chestnuts or potatoes. Apart from the tubers, this plant’s fruits and buds are also edible.
Interestingly, arrowhead may also commonly be referred to as wapato, Indian potato, or duck potato. Ducks aren’t actually able to consume its tubers, as these are situated too deep into the ground. More determined mammals, eager to dig up substrates to access the starchy feast below, can benefit from finding shelter close to arrowhead stands.
Arrowhead can easily be cultivated in either ornamental or wildlife pond systems with little to no current. A perennial, this species produces its inflorescences in July to September each year. The white to green blooms are quite dainty as they rarely measure more than 1.5 inches (4 cm) wide. The petals, which are arranged in whorls of 3 rays, surround a bright yellow center.
8) Tape grass (Vallisneria americana)
Tape grass is known for being an extremely important aquatic plant wherever its colonies are found. The mats created by its lengthy, tape-like leaves have roles that are similar to those played by seagrass beds in marine systems. As their foliage creates safe pockets of shelter for small macroinvertebrates, they also serve as a surface area on which crucial microbes can grow.
Tape grass is used as a place of refuge by many aquatic animals throughout its native range, so its mats also become a site above which many predators may spend hours searching for prey. Apart from sustaining complex food webs, this species can help cleanse water systems by filtering out pollutants and excess concentrations of dissolved nutrients. Moreover, it aids in stabilizing bottom sediments and shorelines.
In the wetland regions of Texas, tape grass is found in the flowing streams of river systems. If you intend to grow this species in a pond or aquarium, it should ideally be provided with a current. Note that it may also be referred to as eelgrass and water celery.
9) Softstem bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani)
The softstem bulrush is perfect for the margins of wildlife and ornamental ponds as its shoots and roots favor shallow water conditions. This perennial herb needs consistently moist conditions to thrive and produce its distinctly erect stems. Though it can easily be mistaken as a type of grass, the triangular cross-section of its stems confirms its identity as a member of the sedge family (Cyperaceae).
Due to its low-maintenance requirements and its hardy features, softstem bulrush is now available in cultivars that are more suitable for use in landscaping water gardens. Its ‘Zebrinus’ cultivar, in particular, is quite stunning because of the alternating white and green bands along the length of its stems. This cultivar can grow as tall as 5 feet (1.5 meters) to add vertical dimension to water features.
10) Southern naiad (Najas guadalupensis)
Also known as guppy grass, southern waternymph, and southern naiad, N. guadalupensis is widespread throughout its native range. An annual aquatic plant, its stems maintain a fully submerged habit in streams, ponds, and ditches. Today, it is quite popular as an aquarium plant due to its ease of care, manageable growth rate, and benefits for various freshwater fish species.
The southern naiad is set apart by its distinctly slender and readily branching stems. These can grow quite long as they elongate in virtually any direction in still waters or in the direction of the current in slightly rougher systems. The deep to purplish-green leaves that arise from the stems are usually very narrow and seldom measure more than an inch long. Tiny blooms, which are situated along leaf axils, are inconspicuous.
In fertile systems, the southern naiad may quickly spread and become problematic. Their rate of spread can be suppressed via mechanical harvesting or by cultivating herbivorous species, like grass carp. In its natural habitat, however, it is not necessarily perceived as a pest plant as both its seeds and foliage are important sources of nutrients for fauna.
11) White water lily (Nymphaea odorata)
N. odorata is often cultivated in ornamental and wildlife ponds because of its stunning features and its many ecological services. It is best known for its fragrant, white to light pink blooms, which occur from March to October. Along with its blooms, its round leaves gracefully float on the water’s surface, naturalizing the overall appearance of ponds, lakes, and other slow-moving water features.
Though it may initially appear as though the white water lily is a floating plant, it is actually rooted into bottom substrates. The lengthy petioles of its large leaves elongate toward the surface, where their leaves float. Floral stalks also rise from the crown of the plant to the surface, where the fragrant blooms can easily be accessed by pollinators. Once the blooms are fertilized, their stalks retreat back into the water and globe-shaped fruits develop.
12) Banana lily (Nymphoides aquatica)
Named for the banana-like shape of its specialized roots, which have evolved to store nutrients, the banana lily favors conditions in calm, slow-moving waters. In wild streams and ponds, this plant may display varied growth forms. In cool areas with less exposure to direct sun, its leaves tend to maintain a submerged position. In contrast, specimens found in brightly lit areas may have floating leaves.
The roots of the banana lily are located close to its leaves. These may be partly or wholly buried in shallow substrates. They can also be suspended in the water column, particularly if they arise from a fragmented section of the plant. When situating this species in your pond or aquarium, keep in mind that its enlarged roots should rest just above the substrate. Small rocks can be used to help weigh them down.
13) Blue flag (Iris virginica)
The blue flag is a fantastic perennial for adding color, structure, and height to the margins of ornamental and wildlife ponds. This stunning species is known best for the eye-catching, blue-violet tones of its flowers, which possess the typical iris shape. If they are borne on well-established specimens, the individual blooms can measure as much as 5 inches (12.7 cm) across. It’s a must to keep an eye out for them from May to July.
In the wild, blue flag or Virginia iris favors the consistently moist conditions of wet meadows, ditches, marshes, and shallow bodies of slowly-moving water. In the absence of blooms, the leaves steal the show as they are sword-shaped, may arch gracefully, and can measure as long as 3 feet (0.9 m) long. Thus, a row of irises can serve as a backdrop for ponds or as a live, vertical feature that blurs the water’s edges.
In terms of ecological benefits, stands of this perennial iris are important because they provide ample shelter for small animals that enter and exit water features. As the leaves are long, they may also hide potential predators, which are essential for maintaining healthy population densities of smaller fauna.
14) Watershield (Brasenia schreberi)
The lovely, circular leaves of watershield add visual complexity and stunning color to the surfaces of calm water features. Bright green through spring and summer, the leaves usually measure about 4 inches (10 cm) across. Along their purple-red and slimy undersides, lengthy petioles are attached to the center of each leaf. These anchor them to roots that are situated in substrates under about 8 – 10 inches (20 – 25 cm) of water.
Watershield can exhibit weed-like growth in waters with rich nutrient concentrations. Unfortunately, its dense stands may compete with other plants by secreting toxic substances. Nonetheless, when grown in controlled densities, this aquatic herb can be remarkably beneficial for wildlife. Waterfowl can safely consume the leaves, so they are a great means of natural control. The remaining foliage should help shelter small aquatic organisms.
15) Frogbit (Limnobium spongia)
Frogbit is a perennial herb that is able to thrive in both disturbed and pristine wetland systems throughout its native range. Its natural colonies are usually found in swamps, the murky shallows of ponds and lakes, marshes, pools, rivers, and canals. It is considered an obligate wetland species as its growth is normally restricted to permanently moist locations.
This ecologically important species can thrive as a rooted specimen in shallow areas or as a free-floating plant in slow-moving waters. Leaves that are found floating on the water’s surface usually have a wide patch of spongy, air-filled tissues along their undersides. Leaves that emerge through the water’s surface, with undersides that are exposed to air, tend to be more leathery and flat in comparison.
Though frogbit does produce tiny, white blooms in summer and fall, its main mode of self-propagation is via its stolons. The stolons usually float on the water’s surface, where they begin to produce clones of the mother plant. Over time, the clones may separate and produce their own roots. The chances of successful self-propagation are increased in stagnant water.