Water Plants

Sometimes called aquatic plants, there is a water plant for virtually every type of water feature, from the smallest tabletop fountains to expansive ponds. To help you consider all your options, use the Better Homes and Gardens Plant Encyclopedia to search by this plant type, then refine your list further by entering your zip code, sun exposure, and other features you're interested in.
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Cattail

Native to North America and parts of Europe and Asia, cattails feel right at home in wetlands and boggy soil. They add a bold vertical presence to water gardens and ponds, thanks to their height (4 to 6 feet); upright, swordlike leaves; and familiar cylindrical fruiting spike displayed by female plants after summer flowering and pollination. The fruiting spikes, which persist through winter, are a favorite landing spot for red-winged blackbirds and dragonflies. Cattails also provide a valuable habitat for wetland birds and other wildlife.

Along with their contributions to landscaping projects, cattails are collected for use in both fresh and dried arrangements and eaten as produce. The rhizomes of narrowleaf cattail Typha angustifolia can be peeled and cooked like potatoes, for example. Young spring shoots, which have a nutty flavor, can be used like asparagus. Stay safe, though—always wash cattails before adding them to the menu, and never consume them if they come from areas with contaminated water.

Pickerel Weed

Quiet ponds and wetlands are excellent growing places for low-maintenance and easy-to-grow pickerel weed. Its blue-green, heart-shape leaves have a waxy feel and provide a backdrop for the plant’s purple-blue flower spikes. The 6-inch-long flowers bloom from the bottom up and decorate the plant nonstop from summer through fall. A valuable source of nectar for bees and butterflies, pickerel weed beckons winged visitors to the garden. Fish often take shelter in pickerel weed and dragonflies and damselflies often lay their eggs on the plant stems near the water.

Arrowhead

Arrowhead, which earned its name because of its arrow-shape leaves, is a no-fuss water garden plant that adds a lush, tropical feel to ponds, pools, and water features. Several species are available, many of which are native to areas of North America. They all bear attractive three-petal flowers throughout summer and are largely carefree once established. Check carefully when you buy: Some species are considered invasive and have naturalized in streams, ponds, and other waterways.

Several types of arrowhead plant form starchy tubers (similar to small potatoes) that can be harvested and eaten by humans. Birds and other creatures also eat these tubers, making the plant a valuable choice for attracting wildlife.

Amazon lily

Truly a plant to wow your friends and neighbors, Amazon lily is nothing short of magnificent. In a large pond, this plant's leaves can reach 6 feet across and are covered in spiny prickles. The flowers, which appear in summer, start as thorn-covered green buds that open to large white masterpieces that fade pink. The blooms have the fragrance of ripe pineapple.

Water Snowflake

Delicate flowers and glossy leaves make this easy-to-grow water garden plant a favorite. The yellow form is also called floating heart, thanks to the heart-shape leaves that float like water lily leaves on the pond surface. Add water snowflake to in-ground water gardens or container gardens. Unlike some water garden plants, water snowflake is generally well-behaved and doesn’t overtake nearby plants.

More Water Plants

Water lettuce

This water plant is grown for its beautiful, velvety foliage that really does resemble a dense carpet of lettuce heads flowering on the water. It can be an important plant for ponds as it shades the water and gives small fish a place to hide. In cold climates, treat this tender floating plant as an annual and replace every year.

Note: In warm-winter climates, water lettuce can be invasive. Check to see if the plant is banned in your area before planting it.

Water Hyacinth

Water hyacinth is a friend or foe, depending on where it is growing. A vigorous water plant, water hyacinth is invasive and is illegal to plant in many states, primarily Zones 9 to 11. So be sure to check local regulations if you’re interested in planting water hyacinth. In areas where it is legal, the plant is a colorful and texture-rich addition to water gardens. Water hyacinth plays a helpful role in water gardens, where it provides shelter and spawning area for small fish. The dense foliage also inhibits algae growth and helps keep water clear.


Lotus

Native to Asia and Australia, the lotus is considered sacred by the Buddhist and Hindu religions. It’s also prized by water gardeners because it’s both beautiful and easy to grow. Lotus stalks start out in muddy soil and water, and end in sweetly fragrant white-to-pink flowers that can grow as large as 12 inches across. Although spectacular, the flowers are short-lived—appearing for only a few days followed by large ornamental seed pods. Also intriguing to observe, the plant’s canopy of waxy blue-green leaves can reach two to three feet in diameter—either lying flat on the water or rising up several feet above the water line.

Lotus grows best in full sun and an aquatic feature without flowing water—which has the potential to disrupt growth and flower formation. Some lotus varieties require a massive amount of water surface to mature, while others do just fine in small water gardens. Read plant descriptions carefully when selecting a lotus for your landscape.