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hydrophytic plants
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Identification, delineation and mitigation

Hydrophytic plants

Plants that grow in wetlands are technically called hydrophytes or hydrophytic vegetation. Along with soils and hydrology hydrophytic vegetation may be used to delineate wetland areas. Hydrophytes are plants that grow in water or on a substrate that is at least periodically deficient in oxygen as a result of excessive water content.

At the most basic level wetland plants are an important component of a wetland system. They are the basis for the food web (the complex and interwoven pathways by which the plant materials are consumed by other organisms). Many waterfowl species as well as muskrats and beaver consume the seeds or the tubers (an underground storage organ like a potato) of wetlands plants. More importantly, much of the plant material enters the food chain as detritus. Detritus are small plant particles resulting from the breakdown and decomposition of the plants and are subsequently consumed by various organisms such as invertebrates which are then consumed by fish and wildlife. A variety of organisms also use plants as cover or habitat. Wetlands plants also improve water quality be removing nutrients and some toxins from the water and storing them. Moreover, wetland plants can reduce peak flood events and stabilize soils.

Understanding hydrophytic plants enhances understanding of wetland ecology and structure. It will also allow you to recognize wetland types on your property.  Wetlands plants can be classified into the following general categories:
 
Hydrophytic Plants - emergent
Emergent
Emergent wetland plants are rooted in soil with basal portions that typically grow beneath the surface of the water, but whose leaves, stems (photosynthetic parts), and reproductive organs are aerial. Examples of emergent plants include cattails and rushes.
 

Hydrophytic Plants - submerged
Submerged
Submerged plants spend their entire life cycle beneath the surface of the water. Nearly all are rooted in the substrate. Submerged plants take up dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide from the water column.

     
Hydrophytic Plants - scrub-shrub
Scrub-shrub
Scrub-shrub plants are rooted in the soil, like emergent plants, but have a woody stem and grow up to 20 feet tall. Scrub-shrub plants may be true shrubs or small trees. Examples of scrub-shrub vegetation include buttonbush and alder.
video clipSee a scrub-shrub wetland.
 

Hydrophytic Plants - floating-leaved
Floating-leaved
Floating-leaved plants have leaves that float on the water’s surface while the roots are anchored in the substrate. Stems connect the leaves, which are circular or oval and have a tough leathery texture, to the bottom.

     
Hydrophytic Plants - trees
Trees
Trees are large woody plants greater than 20 feet tall. Examples of wetland trees include sycamores and willows.
video clipSee a forested wetland.
  Hydrophytic Plants - floating
Floating
Leaves and stems of floating plants float on the water’s surface. Roots may or may not be present and there is no connection to the bottom substrate.
 

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