Due to their constant year round temperatures and stable discharges , Florida’s springs support a variety of plant life, including ancient cypress trees, rare orchids and lillies, and lush underwater carpets of eel grass. Collectively, these plant communities nourish a freshwater food web that is among the most unique in all of North America.
Eelgrass is a rooted, submersed vascular plant with ribbon-like leaves. It is common in some spring runs where it provides excellent habitat for aquatic organisms including damselflies, snails and fish. Sometimes confused with tapegrass or strap-leaved sagittaria, eelgrass leaves are broader and blunter without the raised veins.
Spider lily is an emergent vascular wetland plant, arising from an onion-like bulb, with strap-like leaves. They produce beautiful, delicate flowers with six narrow white petals connected by a white membranous tissue. Spiderlilies, bloom in spring and summer, are often found in swamps, floodplain forests, and the edges of spring-run rivers.
The Florida yellow bladderwort is a large affixed submersed carnivorous plant. Don’t let the “carnivorous” designation scare you. The bladderwort gets its name from bladder-like traps that capture organisms like water fleas, nematodes, tadpoles, and…mosquito larvae. (Thanks for that last one, bladderwort!) The bladder traps are recognized as one of the most sophisticated structures in the plant kingdom.
Bald cypress is among the most magnificent and stately trees in the Southeastern United States. Although not as tall at 100 to 120 feet, it is closely related to the California Redwoods. Bald Cypress is easily recognized by its flat needle-like leaves, large buttressed base, and the “knees” formed by the cypress, thought to stabilize the trees in mucky soils. Cypress knees and buttresses provide a firm support mechanism and help increase oxygen flow from the atmosphere to the roots, allowing cypress to grow in wetter environments than any other North American tree.
Giant duckweed, despite its name, is a very small floating plant found in Florida’s rivers, ponds lakes and sloughs. The giant duckweed features 2-3 rounded leaves that are typically connected, and several roots handing beneath each leaf. The leaves are dark red on their under side surface.
Hydrilla is an exotic/invasive submersed vascular plant. It can grow to the surface and form dense mats. It may be found in all types of water bodies. Hydrilla stems are slender, branched and up to 25 feet long. Hydrilla’s small leaves are strap-like and pointed. They grow in whorls of four to eight around the stem. The leaf margins are distinctly saw-toothed. Hydrilla often has one or more sharp teeth along the length of the leaf mid-rib. Hydrilla produces tiny white flowers on long stalks. It also produces 1/4 inch turions at the leaf axils and potato-like tubers attached to the roots in the mud.
Commonly found near the surface of spring-run rivers, pondweeds are submerged, rooted aquatic plants that prefer swift, clear, calcium-rich waters. It is an important resident of many spring ecosystems on account of the habitat it provides to aquatic organisms, as well as for the food its seeds provide to wildlife.
Red ludwigia is a submersed or emergent aquatic vascular plant commonly sold as an aquarium plant. This pretty plant offers habitat for aquatic organisms.
Tapegrass (Strap-leaf Sagittaria)
Strap-leaf sagittaria is a rooted submersed plant. It can form tall underwater meadows, especially in cool, clear, swift-flowing springs and streams. The leaves are about three-quarters of an inch wide and are typically 2 to 3 feet long; they may be much longer, or they may be much shorter. The leaves have sharp, pointed tips and have 3 to 5 prominent, parallel ridges that run the entire length of the leaf. The flowers of this particular species are white, with three petals, and about three-quarters of an inch wide. Strap-leaf sagittaria looks similar to tapegrass, Vallisneria americana, but strap-leaf sagittaria has pointed leaf tips and prominent leaf ridges. Tapegrass leaves are rounded at the tips and the leaf veins are not nearly so prominent.