How to Identify Pond Plants

Written by cheryl munson
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How to Identify Pond Plants
Water pond plants include emergent, submerged, marginal and bog plants. ( Images)

As a rule, there are three ways to identify pond plants. The first is by their proximity to the shore. The second is by the depth of water in which the plants live. The third way is by whether their flowers or leaves are displayed on top of the water surface or above the water surface. Emergent, submerged, marginal, oxygenator and bog plants are among the major identifications for pond plants.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Notice the location of the plants in the pond and plants growing closest to the water's edge and the pond's shoreline. Look at the soil to see signs of roots anchored in the mud, and identify these plants as "emergent." Include plants that are tall, and those with stiff stalks and stems, on your list of emergent plants. Look for easily identified emergent plants, such as cattails, with their dark brown, cigar-shape "catkin" spikes. Notice other signs, such as birds or wildlife feeding on a plant along the pond's shoreline, to confirm that the plants can be identified as emergent.

  2. 2

    Examine other plants growing in shallow water, but a bit farther away from the edge of the pond. Notice flowering characteristics or indications of lilies, iris or pickerelweed. Identify these plants as "marginal," as they can have visible roots sticking out of the mud or tubers you can see floating in the water. Look for plants in plastic, mesh or fabric containers in artificial ponds for additional confirmation to identify the plants as marginal.

  3. 3

    Notice plants growing closer to the centre of the pond and in the deepest waters. Look for indications that the leaves, stems and stalks are growing under water, as would be the case for a water lily or lotus, which also will display colourful flowers on the surface of the water. Identify these plants as "submerged."

  4. 4

    Search for the "oxygenator" pond plants, which also grow in the deepest areas of the pond. Sift through the masses of vegetation to view plants such as hornwort, identifiable by its coarse and branched stems and forked leaves that look like a raccoon tail (hence the plant's nickname of "coontail").

  5. 5

    Search underwater, if possible, for other plants that resemble those you might find in an aquarium. Understand that oxygenators play a vital role in maintaining the ecosystem of a pond by providing oxygen to fish and shading the habitat to give fish relief from the heat of the day.

  6. 6

    Go to a side of the pond that is shaded, or an area that looks like it gets less sun, to search for and identify "bog" plants. Stay close to the edge and look at smaller and shorter plants growing near the marginal and emergent plants. Look at the colourations of the plants you see and notice if you can see the crown, or head, of the plant close to the water line.

  7. 7

    See if there are any carnivorous plants by looking at what appears to be a flower, but with a tubular pitcher shape. Take a look at the colouration, which often is vivid and exotic in carnivorous plants. Catch a fly or mosquito and try to feed it to the plant with tweezers or a pocketknife. Wait to see if the plant exhibits a carnivorous tendency by closing its "trap" to eat the bug. Add the name Sarracenia or "pitcher plant" to the list of pond plants you have identified.

Tips and warnings

  • Use binoculars if you're identifying plants at a pond in a wildlife preserve. Take pictures of the plants you observe to research them further on the Internet.

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