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.
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, 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.
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.
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.