Species Profile **
Close Up on the Pickerelweed
by Nadine Meyer
Pickerelweed:Pontederia cordata (pon’-te-dir'-ee-a core’-da-ta): Pontederia - named for Guilio Pontedera an Italian botanist (1688-1756); cordata is Latin for heart-shaped
Aquatic plants are generally misunderstood in their ecological purpose and are often called weeds. Weeds are defined as “any undesired, uncultivated plant, especially one growing in profusion so as to crowd out a desired crop”, (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2nd College Edition). In the case of our aquatic habitats and shorelines, the “desired crops” are the native vegetation that is essential for a healthy aquatic ecosystem, therefore native aquatic plants are not weeds.
The pickerelweed is one of my favorite aquatic plants, and here’s why:
Pickerelweed is an emergent plant (the leaves and flower are above the water level), reaching 3.5 feet in height (from the lakebed to the top of the flower), and the plant can tolerate fluctuating water levels. The leaves are glossy, and heart-shaped with long, air-filled stocks and firm blades. The leaf-blades have fine parallel veins. The small violet-blue flowers are crowded on a single spike that ranges from 3-4 inches long. The fruit is 5-10 mm long and “has a corky, ridged surface and is shaped like an elf’s hat” (Through the Looking Glass…a field guide to aquatic plants, 1993).
This plant is native to Minnesota and ranges throughout most of eastern North America. This plant is found in freshwater along shorelines of lakes and streams, and in wetlands. Pickerelweed can tolerate water levels from ankle-deep to six feet. It can grow in a variety of sediments and will form spreading colonies in protected bays.
This perennial plant can grow from seed and from rhizomes. The plant will flower from June through late fall starting at the bottom of the flower stalk moving upward over time. The flowers are pollinated by insects including bees and butterflies, and after a flower is pollinated it dies forming the fruit. Each fruit contains one seed. As the flower stalk becomes weighted with seeds the stalk bends towards the water and the seeds can be washed away to new locations.
Pickerel weed is a food source for a variety of aquatic & terrestrial animals. Ducks and muskrats eat the fruits. Many animals also eat the leaves, roots and stems such as deer, geese, muskrats, snails, and carp.
Pickerelweed is not only a good food source for aquatic and terrestrial animals. The large leaves and clusters of stems provide excellent cover for fish, birds, insects, swimming mammals, amphibians and reptiles. The dense root system and stems provide a wave barrier protecting shoreline sediment from erosion.
To learn more about aquatic habitats and shoreline restoration go to:
- Minnesota DNR Shoreland Management Website
- Minnesota Conservation Volunteer Article: Aquascaping: the Latest Wave in Lakeshore Design
- University of Minnesota Extension Service - Sustainable Landscaping
- Pickerelweed receives its name from the pickerel fish (Northern Pike), with which this plant is thought to coexist.
- Pickerelweed is an edible plant. The leaves can be eaten as greens and the seeds can be roasted and eaten as nuts
For more photos of Pickerelweed click here.(Brandeis University)
For more information on habitat relationships between the Pickerelweed and other aquatic animals, click here. (University of Florida)