Pond plants are a vital part of a balanced aquatic ecosystem

Plants in your pond balance your pond’s ecosystem. Aquatic plants offer food, shelter and environment for fish in ponds.

Michigan has thousands of natural ponds, vernal pools and wetlands where plants perform a specific role in those ecosystems. Understanding the important role of pond plants in Michigan before seeking plant removal management makes dealing with problems situations easier. Plants are a problem when they interfere with the intended use of the pond. This is particularly true with ponds constructed for a specific purpose such as ponds for sport fishing. Plants play a key part in the natural pond and the constructed pond.

The presence of aquatic plants in ponds are vital to maintaining a balanced ecosystem. Aquatic plants come in a four specialized types in the pond. Forming the base of the food chain for almost all life in the pond, they produce dissolved oxygen in the water and serve as protection for small fish and invertebrates. Their roots hold the soil in place.

The four categories of aquatic plants are:

  1. Submerged: Plants that thrive under water that have roots in the soil at the bottom (pond weed and bladderwort)
  2. Floating: Plants that float at or near the water surface and have either floating roots or roots in the soil at the bottom (duckweed and lily pads)
  3. Emergent: Plants that is rooted in the soil under water, but the larger part of the plant is above water (arrowhead, rushes and cattails)
  4. Shoreline: plants that prefer the shore, but can take being moist and flooded seasonally. (blue flag iris, some shrubs and trees)

Aquatic plants benefits include:

  • Algae control. Plants absorb nutrients in the water from fish waste and reduces nutrient availability slowing algae blooms.
  • Shade and protection for fish. Plants can provide a hiding place for fish from predators both above and below the water. Additionally, plants shade the water reducing the amount of sunlight entering the water helping to slow algae blooms.
  • Food for fish and other wildlife. Fish, turtles, insects, ducks and geese and some mammals feed on aquatic plants.
  • Improved water quality. Many water plants not only absorb nutrients from the water, they also absorb pollutants and heavy metals too.
  • Erosion control. Emergent and shoreline plants often have very large root structures. This enables them to reduce wave action and stabilize the shore creating the most effective erosion control you can get in a pond.
  • Aquatic plants in the pond improves its aesthetics. Many emergent and Shoreland plants offer four seasons of interest at the pond providing attractive flowers, interesting structure, color and depth.

There are many native plants that offer a great variety of choices for managing your natural pond. They range from grasses, rushes and reeds; to lily pads, iris, pickerel plant and arrowhead; to shoreline shrubs and trees. Careful planning of your pond management including planting will go a long way to ensuring a balanced natural pond system. Avoid introducing non-native and invasive plants into your pond. When managing the plants in your pond, consider the role of the plant before considering its removal. If you have excessive plant growth, there may be a nutrient overloading issue that must be addressed first.

For more information about the aquatic plants and invasive species contact Beth Clawson, MSU Extension Educator. To learn more about invasive organisms and invasive aquatic plants contact Michigan State University Extension Natural Resources educators who are working across Michigan to provide aquatic invasive species educational programming and assistance. You can contact an educator through MSU Extension’s “Find an Expert” search tool using the keywords “Natural Resources Water Quality.”

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