You’re wading in the lake on a warm summer day…and something beneath the water brushes your leg. Was it a scary weed or was it simply a beneficial aquatic plant that you’re not all that familiar with, yet?
While it’s common to recognize many different plants on land, we often don’t spend much time thinking about the plants that grow underwater. There are a wide variety of types that serve many different purposes in our lakes’ ecosystems. And just like plants on land — some are bad invasive “weeds” and some are good native aquatic plants.
Lyn Crighton, executive director of The Watershed Foundation explains, “A healthy aquatic system must include plants. Plants photosynthesize and create oxygen. Plants provide food and places for aquatic animals to live and reproduce. Rooted plants help stabilize shorelines and hold sediment in place.” And many of them are quite beautiful.
“Underwater plants also perform an important role in improving water quality — which we, of course, appreciate,” Crighton continued. “These plants absorb nutrients and naturally filter pollutants out of the water. They are a very important part of the circle of life in a lake.”
A few examples of desirable native aquatic plants include lily pads (white water lily and yellow pond lily), eel grass and pickerelweed.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) regulates 30 aquatic invasive plants that are illegal to sell or transport in the state through a law known as the “Aquatic Plant Rule.” The list includes species you’ve likely heard of such as Starry Stonewort and Eurasian Watermilfoil. There are also many you might be less familiar with such as yellow floating heart, water soldier and parrot feather.
“Instead of fearing the weeds in the lake, spend some time learning to identify different species. Perhaps you will come to appreciate and even cultivate beneficial aquatic plants while managing the spread of invasive weeds,” suggested Crighton.
“Our lakes’ water quality and health of the entire aquatic ecosystem will benefit.”
Our lakes need help. Our lakes need you. You can volunteer on clean water projects, take an action pledge, attend an event, donate funds – there are so many ways to make a difference! Will you join us?