Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) is an aquatic native plant found throughout Florida. This perennial is usually found in shallow wetland areas or around the edges of lakes and ponds. The aggressive growth habit of these plants helps stabilize the banks of natural water bodies and retention ponds.
In the home water garden, pickerel weed will complement waterlilies by adding texture, height, and long-lasting flowers.
Pickerel weed grows in shallow water no more than a foot deep. Shiny green, lance-shaped leaves emerge in the spring from below the water and eventually grow to 3-5 feet above the surface. Purple-blue flower spikes can be seen several weeks after the appearance of foliage. Although uncommon, the flowers can also be white or pink. Each flower spike holds numerous tubular purple flowers. Individual flowers last only a day, but this repeat bloomer can be enjoyed from spring through fall.
Beyond its visual allure, pickerel weed serves an important ecological purpose. The submerged portion, as with all aquatic plants, provides a habitat for the micro- and macroinvertebrates that ultimately become a food source for fish, amphibians, ducks, and reptiles. Additionally, as aquatic plants die and decompose, bacteria and fungi break down the plant matter; the resulting detritus is food for many aquatic invertebrates. On top of that, the flowers are known to attract butterflies and the seeds are a tasty treat for birds, making this plant a water garden winner. Ducks will actually consume the entire plant!
Planting and Care
Pickerel weed is usually purchased in containers and should be planted in full-sun locations with about a foot of water. You can also propagate it yourself by seed or by digging and dividing rhizomes from your plantings.
You can keep your plant from spreading and taking over a shallow pond by keeping the plants in containers without drainage holes. Place plants about 4 feet apart and they will form a nice stand several years after planting. To complement your stand of pickerel weed, consider planting duck potato or irises alongside it. Irises that grow well in Florida include prairie iris (Iris savannarum) and blue flag iris (Iris virginica).