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Water Plants


Water plants can bring your pond or water feature to life. Water plants provide food and shelter to a huge variety of animal life, and help boost oxygen levels in the water. As well as the moisture-loving plants that thrive around the edge of the pond, there are many attractive and unusual aquatic species that can be grown in the water.

Water plants can be divided into five main groups:

1. Waterside trees and shrubs - these are landscape plants used to give the garden shape, form, shelter, privacy and design.

2. Plants for bog and marsh - these plants rely upon high levels of soil moisture to survive and are usually grown between the water's edge and the higher, drier parts of the garden.

3. Emergent plants - these plants are best established in the shallow regions at the edge of pools and dams or nearby slow-running water.

4. Floating-leaved plants - these plants tend to have submerged roots and stems, and floating leaves. They often produce highly attractive foliage and flowers on the water's surface.

5. Aquatic plants - these plants are purely floating water specimens or purely submerged plants - they are very important in boosting oxygen levels in the water.

Some plants can be used in more than one group and many plants can be used in both cool and warm climates.

Plants for Group 1

Cool climates

Acer palmatum (Japanese maples) – small to medium trees with highly attractive autumn coloured foliage.

Cyathea australis (Tree Fern) – the lush effect of tree ferns with lush green fronds is excellent near water features. Can grow up to 4m.

Cornus florida (Dogwood) – highly attractive deciduous tree to 10m with white bracts surrounding insignificant green flowers.

Other suitable plants include:

Baeckia linifolia, Bauera rubioides, Betula papyrifera, Dicksonia antartica, Salix spp., Taxodium distichum

Warm climates

Doryanthes palmeri Lily) – Broad leaved tussock plant with flower spike borne up to 3 tall.

Lomandra longifolia (Matt reed) – tussuck plant with strappy deep green leaves tolerating full sun to full shade.

Syzygium wilsonii (Powderpuff Lilypilly) - Medium sized weeping shrub to 3 m with graceful pendulous foliage and bright red new growth. Large clusters of red pompom flowers in spring.

Other suitable plants include:

Baeckia linifolia, Bauera rubiodes, Crinum pedunculatum, Cyathea cooperi, Banksia robur, Eucalyptus ptychocarpa, Heliconia spp., Melaleuca spp.

Plants for category 2

Cool climates

Dierama pulcherrimum (Fairy’s Fishing Wands) – Grassy plants to 1 m with dainty pink or white flowers on slender arching stems

Pratia pedunculata (Pratia) – Small-leaved ground covering plant with white or blue flowers. Can tolerate periods of dryness and inundation.

Restio tetraphyllus (Tassel Cord Rush) – Native rush with bright green leaves to 1 m and rusty brown flowers. Grows in wet soil or at the water’s edge.

Schizostylus coccinea – Small plant with narrow strap leaves and red, pink or white flowers in summer and autumn.

Other suitable plants for this group include:

Anigozanthos flavidus, Aruncus dioicus, Astilbe, Blechnum spp., Callistemon speciosus, Adiantum aethiopicum, Geum, Gunnera manicata, Hosta cultivars, Phystostegia viginiana, Zantedeschia aethopica.

Warm climates

Carex fascicularis (Tassel Sedge) – Sedge to 1 m tall with bright green tassel flowers on short stems. Grows at the water’s edge.

Ghania sieberiana (Red-fruited Saw Sedge) – Tall grass-like sedge to 1.5 m.

Juncus pallidus (Pale Rush) – Erect fine-foliaged rush with pale green flowers in spring.

Other suitable plants for this group include:

Adiantum hispidulum, Alpinia caerula, Blechnum spp., Callistemon spp., Calocasia esculenta, Canna cultivars, Hedychium coronatum.

Plants for category 3

Cool climates

Caltha paulustris (Marsh Marigold) – Grows to 30 cm tall with abundant yellow marigold flowers. Grows in wet soil or in shallow water.

Iris sp. (Water Iris) – highly attractive flowering plants commonly grown in water-edge locations.

Ranunculus inundatus (River Buttercup) – Lobed green leaves and small yellow buttercup flowers. Grows in very wet soil or partly submerged in water.

Other suitable plants for this group include:

Arcorus calamus variegatus, Cyperus papyrus, Crinum american, Sagittaria sagittifolia, Schizostylis coccinea, Zantedeschia aethopica.

Warm climates

Pontederia spp. (Peacock Hyacinth, Blue Pickerel) - Glossy heart-shaped leaves and spikes of showy blue flowers in summer-autumn. Grows in shallow water – needs 10 cm water over the crown.

Thalia dealbata (Water Canna) – Erect plant to 1 m with canna-like leaves and purple flowers.

Villarsia exaltata (Erect Marsh Flower) – Tufted plant with rounded leaves and yellow flowers. Grows in wet soil or partly submerged.

Villarsia reniformis (Running Marsh Flower) – Stoliniferous plant with heart-shaped leaves and 30 cm spray of yellow flowers. Grows in wet soil or water to 80 cm depth.

Other suitable plants for this group include:

Eleocharis dulcis, Hymenocallis liriosome, Lepironia articulata, Typha domingensis, Sagittaria latifolia, Saururus cernuus.

Plants for category 4

Cool climates

Brasenia peltata (Water Shield) – circular floating leaves with small mauve flowers in summer.

Nymphoides species (Water Lilies) – highly variable and attractive water flowering plants. Circular leaves float on the surface.

Pistia stratiotes (Water Lettuce) –widely grown in temperate Australia, it does best in hot weather, but can be destroyed by extreme cold. It may need protection over a cold winter.

Eichhornia (Water Hyacinth) –is a noxious weed and illegal to grow in many areas. It may grow well, but you should be very careful with this plant.

Other suitable plants for this group include:

Hydrocleys nymphoides

Trapa natans, bicornis (Water Chestnuts)

Warm climates

Marsilea sp. (Nardoo or Water Clover) – Native ferns with clover-like foliage with green and brown tonings.

Nymphoides sp. (Marshwort) – Rounded or triangular leaves that float on the surface and form a dense mat with white or yellow fringed flowers. Depending on the species, plants can send roots down to 2 m depth. Also grows in wet soil.

Nelumbo nucifera (Lotus) – Large white or pink scented flowers float on the water surface. Needs full sun and a maximum water depth of 2.5 m, minimum depth 45 cm.

Other suitable plants for this group include:

Hydrocleys nymphoides

Plants for category 5

Cool climates

Azolla filiculoides - Water ferns that float on the water surface. They become dark red when exposed to full sun. Very fast-growing – they can double their leaf area in one week. They fix nitrogen and can be used as a garden mulch.

Other suitable plants for this group include:

Lemna minor (Duckweed), Pistia stratiotes (Water Lettuce).

Warm climates

Vallisneria spiralis (Eel or Ribbon Grass) – Submerged plant with strap leaves. Grows in still or moving water and gives off oxygen.

Other suitable plants for this group include:

Lemna minor (Duckweed), Pistia stratiotes (Water Lettuce).


There is a huge range of water lilies, with varying flower colours, hardiness, vigour, leaf shape and size. All the commonly grown varieties have been hybridised from three species: Nymphaea, the common waterlily which grows in both cool and tropical areas; Nelumbo, the Sacred or Tropical Lotus, which grows only in areas where the water temperature remains above 10oC in winter, and Nuphar.

The tropical Nelumbo species and varieties have the strongest fragrance and the most spectacular flowers, although the tropical varieties of Nymphaea also have a sweet scent. Both tropical and cool climate flower colours include white, cream, yellow, orange and pink. Tropicals also have blue and purple coloured flowers, while the cool climate varieties have red coloured flowers.

Growing conditions

· Full sun for tropicals; some afternoon shade in summer for cool climate varieties grown in warmer areas.

· Water depth depends on the variety, ranging from 20 cm to 1 m depth to the top of the tuber. In deep ponds, the container can be placed on rocks to raise the plant to the desired height.

· Plant in wide shallow containers (eg. 30 cm deep x 40 cm wide min.) filled with good quality loam and decayed cow manure (30% cow manure in the base of the container and 70% rich soil above). Cover the soil with a 3 cm layer of coarse sand or gravel to keep the pond clean.

· Slow release fertiliser can be added to the soil mix at planting time; blood and bone can be used as an annual fertiliser – place a handful in a paper bag and bury the bag under the sand layer to prevent immediate dispersal.

· Each plant needs at least one square metre of water surface.

· Tropical varieties grown in cooler areas should be lifted in early autumn and stored in moist soil until late spring when the frosts have finished.

· Cool climate varieties can be left in the pond over winter but should be repotted with fresh soil in spring.

Plants to avoid due to their weed potential

(some of the following plants can become weeds in some districts.)

· Alternanthera philoxeriodes (Alligator Weed)

· Pistia stratiotes (Water Lettuce)

· Salvinia molesta (Salvinia)

· Eichhornia crassipes (Water hyacinth)

· Lemna minor (Duck weed)

· Nymphoides peltata (Water Fringe)

· Crassula helmsii (syn Tillaea recurva)

· Typha latifolia (Cattail)

· Lythrum salicaria (Purple Loosestrife)

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