Tuesday, June 19, 2012

LOOK FOR: Pickerel Weed

I love having a little pond in my backyard. Mostly because it's a bird magnet: in the time it takes me to eat breakfast, dozens of birds will stop by for a drink or a bath. But having a pond also allows us to grow some special plants. Among my favorites is pickerel weed.

Pontedaria cordata
Photo credit: intheburg
The little purple flowers of pickerel weed are in spikes that elongate over the summer. It starts blooming in June and goes right through August. And the flowers must be loaded with nectar, because we see lots of pollinators on them.

The leaves of pickerel weed are like elongated hearts, giving it the name Pontederia cordata, or heart-shaped Pontederia. (The plant's namesake Pontedera was an Italian botanist who fought academic battles with Linnaeus over whether plants reproduce sexually. Linnaeus was proven right, and Pontedera has faded into obscurity but for the plant that his adversary named after him.)

Photo credit: the Natural Capital
Pickerel weed grows in shallow water, along the edges of rivers and ponds. This is a challenge for most plants, whose roots need oxygen to survive. Water-loving plants like pickerel weed have evolved internal snorkels: they have open channels running down their stems that transport air from the leaves above the water to the roots below the water.

This is apparently a very effective survival strategy, because pickerel weed can be prolific. My favorite place to see it is at Jug Bay, where you can canoe or kayak through acres of pickerel weed and its aquatic allies. We've also seen it at Brookside Gardens, Kenilworth Gardens, Roosevelt Island, and Huntley Meadows.

Do you have a favorite spot to find pickerel weed? Let us know in the comments.

Photo credit: the Natural Capital