Everyone loves waterlilies and most people know about arrowheads and cattails. But what about some of the less popular pond plants that get overlooked at the garden center? It’s easy to stick with favorites, but consider adding any of these amazing but lesser-known pond plants to your water feature. You might just find a new favorite for your pond!
Lily-like Pond Plants
This fun little group of plants are considered “lily-like” because their roots are anchored into soil or gravel in a pot at the bottom of the pond. Like a waterlily, their leaves gently float on the surface of the water providing additional shade for your finned friends. And that’s where the similarity ends.
Most, but not all lily-like pond plants are tropical and are much smaller than waterlilies. This group includes a few varieties of plants, but today we’re focusing on the water poppy, water snowflake, mosaic plant, and sensitive plant. In addition, we’ll also talk about a couple of lesser known floating plants, including frogbit, fairy moss, and sensitive plant.
Lily-like plants can be planted either in an aquatic planter or directly into the pond. They grow best if placed in water that is approximately 18 inches deep. To avoid freezing during the winter, move the plant to deeper water so it is below the layer of ice that forms on the pond. Let’s look at three of our favorites.
Water snowflake (Nymphoides spp.) is a large family of aquatic plants that spread with runners along the surface of the pond. Its diminutive size makes it an excellent choice for container water gardens. But don’t let the small size fool you as some running varieties can cover a pond in no time. To control the spread, simply trim the runners back to the desired size.
The water snowflake has floating, two-inch leaves that are green with maroon variegation. Since they exchange oxygen on the surface, the top of the leaves need to remain dry and away from the spray of waterfalls and fountainheads.
Yellow water snowflake (Nymphoides peltate) has yellow flowers, green leaves, and is hardy in Zones 5-11. Painted yellow water snowflake (Nymphoides crenata) has yellow flowers with heavy maroon variegation on its leaves and is hardy in Zones 7-11. Painted white water snowflake (Nymphoides cristata) has white flowers and green leaves with heavy, dark, maroon variegation.
Water poppy (Hydrocleys nymphoides) has two-inch rounded dark green leaves with a yellow, cupped flower. Although it spreads by runners, it grows extremely well in container water gardens as well as small and large ponds. Water poppies will grow so dense in a contained area that the leaves will venture out of the water instead of floating on the surface. Once the water temperature is over 75 degrees Fahrenheit, water poppies will flower all summer long. They’re hardy in Zones 8-9.
Mosaic plant (Ludwigia sedioides) is the most unique of the lily-like pond plants. Each floating leaf is made of tiny, diamond-shaped green leaflets that have a red edge. New leaflets grow from the center outward, forming what looks like a mosaic, giving the plant its common name. Each leaf formation is about four to six inches wide with a total plant spread of 24 to 36 inches.
Mosaic plant survives in Zones 8-11 and is very sensitive to cold water when added to a pond too early in the spring. Wait until the water is at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit before adding it to your water feature.
Floating Pond Plants
Floating plants do just as their name indicates – they float on the water’s surface. Their roots dangle beneath the plant, absorbing all their nutrients from the water. The best traveled of any of the plants with nothing to hold them down, they drift along with the wind and the subtle current of water in the pond.
Floaters are great for filtering ponds by removing nutrients directly from the water, rather than the lower substrate where most other aquatics are planted. But you don’t plant floating pond plants, you simply place them in the water and enjoy. Sometimes, if the roots are long enough, they’ll penetrate the soil and root themselves in place. But if not, and you don’t want them floating into the skimmer, you can place a rock on their roots to keep them in place.
The roots of floating plants are sometimes eaten by koi, which won’t kill them but might disrupt their flowering capability. To minimize this, you can float the plants in the biological filter where they’ll enjoy a high-nutrient resting place that’s not accessible by the koi. If the plants become crowded, simply thin them out of the biological filter. Water hyacinth and water lettuce are the most common additions to a pond, but let’s look at some of the lesser-known pond plants that float.
Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) has charming one-inch heart-shaped leaves and small white flowers. It’s a great choice for container water gardens but also performs well in ponds. Frogbit can float because its lower leaves create a sac filled with air, which provides buoyancy. Frogbit is hardy in Zones 4-10 and overwinters by dropping buds to the bottom of the pond, where they remain until spring when the bud produces a baby frogbit that floats to the surface.
Fairy moss (Azolla caroliniana) is a small, fern-like green plant that will turn red when exposed to full sun. It most commonly ends up in your pond as an unplanned addition that rides in on aquatic plants you purchased. Fairy moss can grow rapidly but you can remove it with a pond net as needed. It’s unique from the other lesser-known pond plants in that it overwinters in your pond by freezing solid in the ice.
Sensitive plant (Neptunia aquatica) is a known favorite of children because the leaves close when they are touched. What you may not have realized is that it’s an aquatic plant. It floats across the surface of the water with white growths along the stem that appear to be foam. Sensitive plant is hardy in Zones 9-11 and produces yellow flowers along the stem all summer. Each night, the leaves close and reopen again in the morning.
Experiment and Have Fun
Any of these charming plants make a fun addition to your pond and some are perfect for container water gardens due to their diminutive stature. You’ll enjoy the beauty and the beneficial filtrating properties that lesser-known pond plants possess. Add a few to your pond and make note of the ones you like best.