What are Emergent Plants?

Mettauer Environmental logo with emergent plants

What are Emergent Plants?

If you’ve ever walked near a lake or pond, chances are you’ve seen some type of emergent plant. Emergent plants are rooted in the bottom of a lake or pond and typically grow along their shorelines in water that’s 4 feet to 5 feet deep. Their stems and leaves extend out above the water, unlike submerged plants that reside entirely underwater. Emergent plants are also known as littorals in the aquatic plant family because they naturally grow along the littoral zone (the nearshore area of a lake or pond). There are many native and invasive types throughout Florida.

Pros and Cons of Emergent Plants


One of the biggest benefits of emergent plants is the nutrient buffer zone they create for your shoreline. Littorals provide a barrier between the body of water and sediments or materials that may otherwise flow into the lake or pond due to runoff. This includes filtering out excessive nutrients from lawn fertilizers. Even if pollution, unfortunately, makes its way into your lake or pond, emergent plants can help filter out many toxins. Emergent plants also provide food for birds, fish, and insects native to Florida creating a great habitat along your shoreline.

Littorals or Emergent plants also are a natural way to preserve your lake banks. Emergent plants root within the water’s edge and as water levels fluctuate they keep the bank anchored with their roots. Without littorals present your banks are exposed to the elements and your shoreline becomes more susceptible to washouts and erosion, creating a very unstable surface.

If properly managed and maintained, emergent plants can also create a beautiful landscape around your lake or pond. For both residential and commercial properties, having a pristine plant landscape around your water can help add to the overall aesthetic and may even increase your resale value.


If left unmanaged, emergent plants can become pretty problematic. Cattails are especially known to run rampant if left alone, they can surround a body of water making it difficult for people or various wildlife to access. Excessive amounts of these types of plants in water can also throw off the oxygen and pH levels, leading to fish kills and other wildlife habitat loss. Not to mention, invasive plants that are left to grow out of control can take nutrients away from other native plant species. All of these potential problems could lead to an overall decrease in the diversity of the plant and animal species residing in the area.

Nuisance and Non-Native Plants

If managed properly, emergent plants can be a great addition to your lake or pond in regards to functionality and aesthetics. However, the invasive plant types come with a lot of problems. Some common examples of invasive plants in Florida include:


Cattails are extremely common throughout Florida. They are actually an example of a once native plant that is now considered to be invasive because of how rapidly they continue to grow and overtake natural habitats, such as the Florida Everglades. In the Everglades, cattails have started to out-compete other native species that other wildlife in the area rely on.

Carolina Willows

Carolina willows are another type of emergent plant that’s considered invasive in Florida. The Carolina willow is a relatively small and thin type of tree that grows along shorelines. They can create a thick barrier around a lake or pond if left untreated. Carolina willows also require a significant amount of water, which takes available resources away from other native plants and animals that live in the area.


Primrose are often admired for their beauty due to the large, yellow flowers they produce. However, these plants are unfortunately invasive in Florida and create many of the same problems as those listed above. Primrose can grow rapidly and hinder the growth of other native plant species, as well as branch far enough out into the water to even damage structures or the ability to navigate.

Beneficial Emergent Plants

While there are obviously some invasive and nuisance plants throughout Florida, there also are several native emergent plant types that are beneficial for a variety of reasons. Some beneficial species include:


Both soft-stem and giant bulrush are types of beneficial emergent plants. Their seeds help provide a food source for ducks and other birds, and they are considered native plants in Florida. Bulrush can also provide filtration for the lake or pond water because their stems can absorb any toxicities that may enter the water through runoff or pollution.


Pickerelweed helps provide some benefits for lakes and ponds as well. As a native plant in Florida, pickerelweed has a sturdy build that helps provide stability around the banks of the bodies of water it surrounds. They’re easily recognizable because of the purple and blue flowers that they produce.


Common arrowhead is named after its appearance, with leaves that resemble an arrowhead. This Florida native plant is beneficial for providing erosion protection on the shorelines in which it grows. It’s also a great food source for various wildlife, including aquatic birds, fish and more.

Golden Canna

Golden canna spawns bright, yellow flowers that make it an attractive addition to the landscape of many ponds and lakes in Florida. Canna is also a beneficial plant type because it can even help to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from the water it grows in. Like many of the other types referenced above, canna can also serve as a food source and habitat for a variety of wildlife including birds and butterflies.

Water Iris

Water iris also makes an attractive addition to any pond or lake shore with its bright purple flowers. Iris acts as a great filter plant and helps prevent erosion around the banks of the water it grows out of.

How to Introduce Them to a Lake or Pond

When introducing emergent plants to your lake or pond, the most important thing is to make sure the natural balance of the area is maintained. It’s also important to make sure that the number of plants you bring in are in scale with the size of the body of water. You don’t want to have too many plants for the amount of water space you have. When planting, it’s best to try and keep the plants contained so they don’t overpopulate your shoreline. Count on the experts at Mettauer Environmental to introduce and maintain the right kind and correct number of emergent plants in your lake or pond. As far as the best time of year to introduce emergent plants to your lake or pond, any time is typically fine in Florida because of the warm climate.

Lake and Shoreline Management Resources

Whether you’re looking to introduce emergent/littoral plants to your pond or identify any nuisance or invasive plants along your shoreline, we can help. We are Florida’s leader in environmental services, and lake and shoreline management is one of our specialties. We take pride in educating the community about the local environment and the importance of discerning native vs. invasive plants in Florida. Contact us today for more information on lake and shoreline management, environmental restoration, exotic vegetation control, and more.

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