How to Plant Variegated Water Celery in Ponds (Oenanthe javanica)

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Variegated water celery filters pond water
Photo by David J. Stang / CC BY-SA

Also known as java dropwort or flamingo plant, variegated water celery belongs to the family Apiaceae, also known as the carrot family. Apiaceae contains celeries, carrots, parsley, dill, fennel, coriander, and a variety of other commonly sought after vegetables and herbs. It is also home to poison hemlock, so not all members of this family are edible.

Water celery has beautiful, serrated tri-colored leaves that appear green, cream, and pink in varying hues. The great access that they have to nutrients and sunlight, the brighter the coloration, typically.

It produces umbels of small, white flowers during the summer. If you’re not sure what an umbel is, picture Queen Anne’s Lace (which also belongs in Apiaceae), the flower heads of which are umbels; water celery looks much the same, but with slightly larger flowers.

Facts, Benefits & Uses of Variegated Water Celery

red spotted newt good for ponds
Sensitive species like the red-spotted newt use variegated water celery for cover.

O. javanica is of particular value to a variety of wildlife. It produces both pollen and nectar, making this plant attractive to bees, butterflies, moths, flies, and a variety of other pollinating insects.

The shoots and leaves provide valuable cover for fish, amphibians such as newts, and aquatic insects, all of which can aid in the proper ecosystem functioning of your pond.

Deer may browse on the leaves, which shouldn’t be of overly much concern as this plant grows and spreads quickly. Fish, particularly carp (including koi), seem to find the roots and stems palatable.

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Variegated Water Celery Fact Sheet:
Herbaceous Aquatic Perennial
USDA 5 – 12
Full sun to partial shade
June – September (Summer)
Height and spread both up to 61 cm (24 in)
5 – 15 cm (2 – 6 in)
pH 6.5 – 7.5

Variegated Water Celery Growth, Hardiness & Climate

Oenanthe javanica water celery growing in a fish pond
Photograph by Mike Peel ( / CC BY-SA

Variegated water celery grows quite quickly, able to reach as great as two feet in height and spread in only two months or less. They prefer full sun, and will achieve the most flowers and brightest leaves when provided with such, but be aware that full sun will also encourage faster, greater growth.

Pond culturists argue somewhat on the exact hardiness of this plant, but it can be reasoned that it grows well in zones 5 through 12 considering it can be found throughout China, including both subtropical and cold alpine regions. Frost will kill this plant down to its roots, though.

Blooming typically occurs from June through September, depending on where you live. Late spring throughout summer, when sunlight and rain are most abundant, prompts flowers to bloom.

How to Plant Variegated Water Celery In Ponds

how to plant variegated water celery in ponds

The planting depth for variegated water celery depends on the size of the taproot, but generally planting in anywhere from 2 to 6 inches of moist soil works best. You can plant marginally in your pond, or in up to 6 inches of water so long as the taproot is contained in soil. Soil types most preferred by O. javanica are sandy loam, silt, clay, or muddy soils.

Do place in a pot or planting basket submerged in the water to prevent water celery from overspread and taking over your pond or natural areas. If not placed in water, you’ll need to make sure the soil is kept consistently damp, as variegated water celery is not drought tolerant. Mulch can be packed around the base of the stem to help hold in moisture, but should be checked frequently for mold growth.

How to Care For Variegated Water Celery

Pond filtration and oxygenation variegated water celery
Comedora / CC BY-SA

Provide variegated water celery with ample sunlight and moisture, and it will be quite happy! However, you’ll likely need to trim it at least once per year to control its growth, or keep it in pots to prevent it from spreading too far. Leaves can be pruned and either composted, given to fish, or kept for use in salads. The flower umbels will fall off in abundance once autumn hits, so keep up on cleaning these out of the pond to maintain healthy water quality.

How to Winter Variegated Water Celery

Not frost tolerant, water celery can either be left outside for the winter, as its taproot and rhizomes will sprout new growth again in the spring, or it can be dug up and brought indoors. These plants aren’t overly expensive, so buying new ones each year may be a more manageable solution for you depending on your region.

Is Variegated Water Celery Toxic, Poisonous or Invasive?

Native to Asia and portions of northern Australia, variegated water celery is considered invasive outside of its native range. It spreads quickly and aggressively, choking out other vegetation. In the United States, it has been reported in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois, where efforts are underway to eliminate it from natural areas. It can still be purchased outside of its native Asian and Australian range, but take care to only plant it in pots to prevent its spread to natural areas, where it would wreak ecological havoc on ecosystems.

Variegated water celery is non-toxic, edible to humans, domestic fish, and wildlife alike. When found in polluted waters, however, do not eat it as it’s likely to have soaked up some of the harmful pollutants.

Is Variegated Water Celery Edible? Will Fish Eat it?

This plant is edible to wildlife as well as people, and historically was used to treat fevers, jaundice, and the flu. Leaves can be cooked or eaten raw in salads, and the taproot resembles a carrot both in appearance and flavour. If being consumed by people, though, the root should be cooked prior to eating to ensure the eradication of any potentially harmful compounds.

Koi carp in particular seem to enjoy eating this plant, which may be of some benefit to you as this plant is a prolific spreader. It’s rather nutrient rich, and makes a healthy treat for your fish if they eat it. In addition, studies have found that O. javanica is able to significantly raise antioxidant and protein levels in the body when consumed.

Where to Buy Variegated Water Celery & Seeds? (UK & US)

Variegated water celery is widely available in plant nurseries and home improvement/gardening stores, as well as via online pond and garden retail outlets. The price ranges from around five dollars per plant or approximately twenty dollars per dozen plants.

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