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What Are the Different Types of Wetland Vegetation?

By Anna Harrison
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Wetland vegetation consists of grasses, plants, shrubs, and trees that grow in soil that is saturated for most of the year or in the water itself. These plants are called hydrophytes, meaning they love the water. Both aquatic and terrestrial species can adapt to wetland conditions along the coast as well as inland. The four groups of wetland habitats are shoreline, emergent, floating, and submerged.

Shoreline plants grow along the edges of ponds, lakes, streams, marshes, and bogs. They may grow at the water level or root in the shallows. Plants such as purple loosestrife thrive in these areas, often to the point of becoming invasive. Horsetail, buttonbush, brook cress, and peat moss all grow in this kind of wetland climate. Large wetland trees such as mangroves, salt cedar, and just about any type of pine can also be found in these areas.

Emergent wetland vegetation is rooted in soil that is under the water for most of the time. These plants grow in the water and reach through to the air above. Arrowhead plants often grow in dense groups in this wetland climate. Other emergent plants include water willow, bulrushes, and cattails. Most plants in this category usually thrive where the water is less than 5 feet (1.5 m) in depth.

Floating plants grow in the water with roots that reach quite deeply through the water to the bottom. Just a small portion of these plants, usually the flowers, grow above the water level. Duckweed, pondweed water lilies, and water hyacinth all belong in this category.

Submerged plants flourish completely underwater, although a leaf or two may break through the surface of the water. Most of these plants even flower underwater. Watercress and water milfoil are two types of wetland vegetation that exist underwater. These wetland plantings can actually form meadow-like areas at the water's bottom.

All of these wetland plants grow in hydric wetland soil. This type of soil is created by water saturated conditions with very little oxygen or none at all. It may have a top layer of rotting plant matter which decomposes extremely slowly.

Nearly all of these plants are a valuable food source for wetland wildlife. Animals such as waterfowl, turtles, muskrats, and fish feed on the plants as well as their seeds. Wetland vegetation creates habitats for these animals as well as other birds, snails, and insects. They provide safe breeding and nesting grounds for these and many other creatures.

Wetland vegetation serves many useful purposes. It not only soaks up water that would otherwise cause flooding, but slows the flow as well. It also helps to prevent coastal erosion and also filters out pollutants and sediment.

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