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Diverse Plants for Ponds or Stormwater Wetlands

Learn which plants will grow best near your pond or wetland and how to care for them.

| April 2018

  • reed beds, bulrush, marsh plants
    Bulrush (Typha latifolia) must be one of the most distinctive of marsh plants, with its tall (up to 2m) statuesque appearance and cigar-like flowering head.
    Photo by Pixabay/JamesDeMers
  • reed beds, stormwater wetlands, gravel reed bed plants
    "Permaculture Guide to Reed Beds" by Feidhlim Harty, is a must reed for anyone trying to maintain a pond or wetland.
    Courtesy of Permanent Publications

  • reed beds, bulrush, marsh plants
  • reed beds, stormwater wetlands, gravel reed bed plants

The Permaculture Guide to Reed Beds (Pemanent Publications, 2017) by Feidhlim Harty, is a firsthand look at reed beds and how to care for the area aound your wetlands. Harty shows readers what the necessary steps are to keep the area thriving. Find this excerpt in Chapter 6, “Plants and Planting.”

Wetland Plant Selection

The main plants used are the tall, robust and enthusiastic species found in natural reed beds and wetland areas. In constructed wetland systems, the attributes for selection include tall prolific growth with broad flat leaves and the ability to survive permanent shallow flooding. The more enthusiastic the growth, the greater the uptake of nutrients and water. The broader and flatter the leaves, the greater the surface area for bacteria and other microorganisms to stick to when the leaves fall into the water column at the end of the growing season. Remember that it is this ‘fixed film filter’ of microorganisms that provides much of the active treatment within soil based constructed wetlands.

Common reed, bulrush, yellow flags, branched burr reed and other plants provide the main bulk of the species present in constructed wetlands. Smaller species such as fools cress and water cress can also be used to provide early low cover until the taller plants become established. These provide lots of leaf area within the water, providing an early fixed film filter area. Water mint is another low growing species, and although not as quick growing as others, it is strongly aromatic (which can be an attractive feature at the inlet and outlet of a sewage treatment system).

For gravel reed beds the main requirements are strong root development and prolific top growth. Common reed is generally a clear winner as it has deep roots that grow down into the gravel and excellent biomass production for maximum uptake of nutrients. My experience has been that other species such as branched burr reed and bulrush simply don’t have the same enthusiasm for growth in gravel systems. Yellow flags grow better despite their shallower roots, and their showy flowers make them an attractive addition at the outlet end of a system.

Following is a description of the plants I have used most often in constructed wetlands and reed beds. This isn’t a definitive list of all the available species, but gives a good idea of the types of plants included. If you are building outside of Ireland and Britain, look for plants that are native to your region and have similar physical characteristics to the ones listed here.

Common reed (Phragmites australis) is our tallest native grass and the tallest of the wetland plants listed here, able to reach 3.5m in height. It can form dense cover over wetlands, often pushing through weaker species to colonise large areas of the system. The cylindrical, straw-coloured stems persist throughout the winter, providing oxygen to the roots all through the dormant season. The flowering head of the grass is dark purple and visible in beautiful plumes from August to October.

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