Types of aquatic plants
The main types of aquatic plants are water lilies, nuphar, lotus flowers, marsh plants and submerged oxygenating plants.
Here is the basic information you need to know about each type of plant to create a magnificent aquatic garden!
Water lily is considered to be the queen of the pond, and it is a must in every aquatic garden.
In Europe, the autochthonous species, i.e. those existing spontaneously in nature, are Nymphaea Alba (photo) and Nymphaea Candida, both hardy species with white flowers. In Italy, Nymphaea Alba can be found in many natural lakes such as Lake Candia in Piedmont.
There are also hundreds of species that have been hybridised, in every colour and shade, yellow, red, peach/cream, pink, fuchsia, and all possible shades.
Among these, there are still differences between those with a star shape and those with a more rounded shape.
Furthermore, new and more particular varieties are always being developed, born from the hybridisation of already existing species!
The hardy water lilies are perennial and particularly resistant aquatic plants, preferably living in still or slow-moving waters.
Hardy water lilies have a root system that anchors them to the seabed and the average depth ranges from 20 to 150 cm, and they can easily withstand temporary lowering of the water level.
You can find all the information on how grow water lilies by downloading the free “Guide to Growing Aquatic Plants“.
Nuphar is a type of aquatic plant similar to the water lily. Nuphar are rhizomatous plants with leaves similar to those of water lilies, but more elongated. They produce small yellow flowers that open above the water surface like those of water lilies. Nuphar are very vigorous and frost-resistant plants.
The only native species of nuphar that grows in Italy in natural lakes is Nuphar lutea, which, together with Nymphaea Alba, colonises the waters of Lake Candia in the strip near the edges where the water depth is about 2 metres.
Tropical water lilies
Tropical water lilies have been admired since ancient times by Asian peoples and the Egyptians. The ancient Egyptians worshipped tropical water lilies from the Nile, as can be seen from the numerous frescoes in temples and tombs.
The species that were faithfully represented are Nymphaea Caerulea (photo) and Nymphaea Lotus, which populated the ponds of the Nile Valley thousands of years ago. The first one is a blue water lily, while the second one is a white night blooming water lily.
Unlike hardy water lilies, tropical water lily varieties also include colours of purple, blue or light blue shades, and also include nocturnal species, i.e. that bloom at night (and stay open until mid-morning)!
Tropical water lilies are even more spectacular than hardy ones, both for their colours and for their large, emerging and fragrant flowers.
The flowers of tropical water lilies are produced in large numbers and rise above the water surface from 10 to 20 cm. The leaves are large and decorative, as they often come in various colours and are notched on the edges.
These water lilies inhabit the stagnant waters and slow-flowing streams of the Far East, South America, Australia and Africa.
In Italy, tropical water lilies can be grown outdoors in the warm months, but must be moved to an environment with a stable temperature of no less than 10 degrees in winter.
Giant tropical water lilies
Among the tropical water lilies there are also giant species. Mainly Nymphaea Victoria and Euryale Ferox belong to this category.
Nymphaea Victoria (photo) colonises the meanders of slow, calm rivers of the Amazon rainforest, where it needs water of at least 27 degrees to grow. Its leaves can be up to two meters in diameter. The upper side of the leaves has raised edges, interrupted by two incisions that allow rainwater to come out. The underside has strong ribs and is scattered with thorns that protect the plant from aquatic predators. Blooming is nocturnal and the fragrant flowers, up to 30 cm in diameter, are iridescent, white on the first day to pink-purple on the third day.
There are two native species of Nymphaea Victoria: the Victoria Amazonica, native to Guiana, and the Victoria Cruziana, native to Paraguay, which is slightly smaller in size than the first one.
Euryale ferox colonises the slow, still waters of Asia. The olive-green leaves can reach 150 cm in diameter and are covered with thorns, without raised edges. The flowers are purple and very small compared to the size of the plant (5 cm in diameter).
In Italy, these giants can be grown, preferably in a greenhouse, but they must be sown every year, as at our latitudes they behave as an annual plant.
Lotus flower, the king of the pond
Lotus flower is a type of aquatic plant that has been known and grown since ancient times.
Lotus flower is considered a sacred flower for Hinduism and Buddhism, while in India and Vietnam it is a national symbol. In the Far East, lotuses have a strong symbolic content in the Buddhist religion. Often in temples there are large basins in which lotus flowers are grown and Buddha is often depicted sitting on a lotus flower that represents purity.
Lotus flowers in Asian countries are also grown for food, in fact the whole plant is consumed: the seeds are roasted, the rhizomes are cooked like potatoes, the young leaves are used for soups and stews, and the petals are used to make herbal teas.
Lotus flower has been used in water gardens since ancient times. Lotuses are of great decorative interest, in fact their presence gives an exotic note to the entire body of water.
It is a very fast-growing aquatic plant, typical of ponds and reservoirs with stagnant or almost no current, 5 to 50 cm deep and more.
There are two botanical species: Nelumbo nucifera and Nelumbo lutea.
Nelumbo nucifera is a hardy species native to Asia and Australia, popularly known as the Asian lotus flower.
Nelumbo lutea, on the other hand, is native to Central and South America, but it has also been grown in North America since time immemorial by natives for food consumption of the seeds and rhizomes.
Nelumbo nucifera is a species with pink flowers, while Nelumbo lutea is a species with soft yellow flowers.
From the two lotus flowers Nelumbo nucifera and Nelumbo lutea, as with water lilies, hundreds of species have been created through hybridisation. There are therefore large, medium, small and dwarf varieties with white, yellow, pink and red flowers.
The vegetation of the lotus flowers is extraordinary, in fact the leaves of the larger varieties emerge from the water up to more than 150 cm.
The leaves have a special surface structure that makes them water-repellent (water runs off immediately and the leaves always stay dry and clean). The flowers emerge from the foliage to bloom in full sun.
Lotus flower must be grown in full sun in order to have a temperature of 25 degrees in summer, which is necessary for flowering.
Lotus plant is a very vigorous plant, to the point that it must necessarily be grown inside tubs WITHOUT any holes, otherwise the rhizomes come out of the baskets and colonise the whole pond in a short time!
You can find more detailed information on how to grown lotus flowers by downloading the free “Guide to Growing Aquatic Plants“.
Marsh plants are the middle ground between aquatic and terrestrial plants. Their leaves and flowers grow freely in the air, but their roots need constantly wet soil and do not tolerate dry soil.
In a pond, these plants should be placed along the edges, where, during the building of the pond, a step should be set up at a shallower depth than the main one, in order to be able to plant the marsh plants.
Generally, marsh plants should be planted between 0 and -30 cm between the water surface and the plant collar (it may be variable depending on the species of marsh plant).
Marsh plants are essential in our ponds to give a more natural look and a greater sense of dynamism to the pond. There are many species of marsh plants, the best known of which are rushes, carex, typhe, marsh irises, sagittarias, pontederias (photo) and horsetails.
Apart from the aesthetic aspect, marsh plants are essential for the phyto-purification process of the pond, as they are able to filter and purify pond water in a natural way!
To learn more about the phyto-purification of the pond through aquatic and marsh plants, download the free “Guide to Growing Aquatic Plants“.
Plants for moist soil
The context in which the pond is located is also of fundamental importance. It is also necessary to carefully plan how to integrate the pond with the rest of the garden, in particular it is required to plan which plants to place on the banks of the pond, otherwise there is a risk of a bad end result.
In an aquatic garden, plants for moist soil have the function of extending the area around the pond, reducing the discontinuity with the rest of the garden. As an end result, these plants give the impression that the water garden is larger than it actually is.
Plants for moist soil need wet soil at all times, but do not tolerate being submerged in water.
Submerged oxygenating plants
Oxygenating plants, or submerged plants, live entirely under water and have the very important function of ensuring a clear water. Oxygenating plants release large quantities of oxygen during the day, a vital element for fish and all other organisms living in the pond.
If the pond were low in oxygen, algae growth would be encouraged and the water would turn green. In addition, oxygenating plants provide shelter and food for newborn fish and fry.
The amount of oxygenating plants in a pond must be proportional to the amount of water, i.e. having few or none would cause oxygen shortage, while having too many could stifle the growth of other plants.
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