Hydrophytic vegetation is a term used for plants that have adapted to survive oxygen-challenged aquatic environments.
You’ll often find these plants in wetlands, and they can tell you a lot about their surrounding environment.
Let’s look at what hydrophytic vegetation is and what you should know about these plants if you own land with wetlands.
1. What is hydrophytic vegetation?
Hydrophytic means “water-loving,” and thus hydrophytic vegetation refers to “water-loving” plants that have adapted to growing in wetlands.
These plants can thrive in low-oxygen (anaerobic) conditions associated with prolonged saturation or flooding.
They have evolved alternative methods of collecting oxygen such as…
The hypertrophied lenticels in the bark of speckled alder
The hollowed stems of rush and grass species
The air-filled cells (aerenchyma) in the roots of cattails
2. What are the indicator categories of hydrophytic plants?
As plant species vary in their tolerance of wet conditions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created indicator categories of plants in the National List of Plant Species that Occur in Wetlands.
This list reflects the range of estimated probabilities of a species occurring in wetland versus non-wetland across the entire distribution of the species.
The indicator categories include:
Obligate Wetland (OBL): Almost always occur under natural conditions in wetlands; plants include duckweed, water lily, pickerelweed, cattails, wooly sedge, soften-stem bulrush, royal fern, and water horsetail
Facultative Wetland (FACW): Usually occurs in wetlands but occasionally occur in non-wetlands
Facultative (FAC): Equally as likely to occur in wetlands or non-wetlands; plants include red maple, Poison ivy, Switchgrass, and Alpine violet
Facultative Upland (FACU): Usually occurs in non-wetlands but occasionally found in wetlands
Obligate Upland (UPL): Occur in wetlands in another region but almost always occur in non-wetlands under natural conditions in the region specified; plants include White pine, White clover, Virginia creeper, Christmas fern, and Ground ivy
Note: If a species does not occur in wetlands in any region, it is not on the National List.
3. Why is hydrophytic vegetation important?
Hydrophytic vegetation provides food and critical habitat for organisms that live in or near water resources.
This includes algae, macroinvertebrates, amphibians, fish, birds, etc.
Having hydrophytic vegetation present can improve water quality through the uptake of nutrients, metals, and other contaminants.
Furthermore, vegetation is also a crucial factor in protecting shorelines from erosion and mitigating the impact of floods.
4. What can hydrophytic vegetation tell us about the condition of water?
Humans can cause changes to the natural hydrologic regime and plant communities.
Certain plant species react differently to these stressors, and as environmental conditions vary, the plant community will respond to meet these stressors (hydrologic changes, nutrient enrichment, excess sediment and turbidity, metals, and other pollutants).
Human disturbances can cause the habitable zones for wetland vegetation to shift, and species tolerant of human disturbance might invade while others may die back due to drainage or flooding.
5. What adaptations allow hydrophytic vegetation to survive in water?
Hydrophytic plants have adapted over the years to survive in oxygen-challenged aquatic environments.
Here are the adaptations that allow this to happen.
Having long, hollow stems that reach the surface of the water
Having large, flat, waxy leaves that allow the top of the plant to float
Floating freely on the surface of the water
Having air sacs or large spaces between cells, which provide buoyancy that allows the plant to float on top of the water
Being completely submerged in water and rooted in the mud
6. What are common hydrophytic plants?
There’s a wide variety of hydrophytic vegetation and their growth depends on several factors, including habitat, climate, water depth, salt content, and soil chemistry.
Here are various common hydrophytic plants according to the habitats that they grow in.
Salt marshes or sandy beaches:
Salt marsh sand spurrey
High tide bush
Salt marsh aster
Sea milt wort
Ponds, lakes, marshes, swamps, or other areas flooded by at least 12 inches of water:
There are also carnivorous plants that are hydrophytic, including sundew and northern pitcher plants.
Some orchids grow in hydrophytic environments, including white-fringed orchids, purple-fringed orchids, greenwood orchids, and rose pogonia.
7. What are common habitats for hydrophytic vegetation?
Hydrophytic vegetation grows either in water or in consistently wet soil conditions.
8. What characteristics do wetlands share?
Wetlands are essential for our ecological, economical, and social health.
However, not everyone understands exactly what a wetland looks like.
When you see the word, you may think of a swamp, marsh, or bog.
Or perhaps a peaceful pond with cattails, water lilies, and frogs.
However, wetlands aren’t always just a wet area to be left alone.
Some wetlands are actively farmed, mowed for hay, or maintained as lawns.
If you currently have land that includes wetlands, you can be sure of their classifications by checking for the following characteristics.
Hydrology: This refers to the degree of flooding or soil saturation, which can vary according to several factors (i.e., climate conditions, soil texture, soil permeability, wetland type, the geographic location of the wetland, and mad-made disturbances).
Soil: There are roughly 20 hydric soil indicators that can help you identify a soil as a wetland. These soils are formed in conditions of saturation.
Hydrophytic vegetation/plants: Wetlands are dominated by “hydrophytes” as discussed above. There are about 1,400 species of plants that are typically found in wetlands.
9. What are the benefits and purposes of a wetland?
Wetlands provide habitats for fish, wildlife, and plants.
They recharge groundwater and reduce flooding while also providing clean drinking water, offering food and fiber, and supporting cultural and recreational activities.
These are essential needs for our communities, and as such, federal, state, and local regulations seek to protect wetlands.
10. Where are wetlands found?
Wetlands are found worldwide within nearly every terrestrial biome, including deserts and the alpine tundra.
However, in the United States, most wetland areas are located in the Southeast, the Mississippi River system, and the northern states of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
11. How can you help save wetlands?
Wetlands have been reported as one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world today.
People often see wetlands as “wasteland.”
Because they’re not as productive as they could be, they’re filled in and destroyed rather than being used to their fullest potential or protected as they should be.
Unfortunately, because wetlands are essential to our ecological health, this endangers human, plant, and animal life at an alarming rate.
If you’re wondering how you can help save wetlands, follow the steps below.
Volunteer your vacation to save a wetland
Did you know that Earthwatch.org helps to pair researchers with volunteers in all habitats?
Visit their website and search for wetlands.
You can see the trips they have planned, and you can volunteer your time to help out!
Donate money to charity
The Common Sense Environmental Fund provides money to research organizations and conservation projects.
If you don’t have time to volunteer, giving money is a great way to help.
Common Sense will select the most qualified conservation initiatives to fund with the cash you provide.
Join a wetland monitoring group
Looking for a local group to join in your community? Contact the Izaak Walton League at 1-800-BUG-IWLA.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
This is a general piece of advice that will help all facets of the environment (not just wetlands).
Everything you can do to reduce your waste and recycle what you use daily will prevent trash from entering our waterways, including wetlands.
Recycling is a daily activity that you can take part in, so do your part.
Complete a wetland delineation for your own land
If you own land with or near wetlands, it’s important to take the proper steps to protect them.
Wetland delineation determines the precise boundaries on the ground through field surveys.
This is an important step for land developers and engineers and helps to eliminate any potential roadblocks that may delay or prevent a project from happening.
12. What does a wetland delineation find?
A wetland delineation results in three findings:
Delineation results map: The map should clearly define the boundaries of each delineated wetland or stream along with the location of all data points and the area of investigation.
Boundaries: Wetland and tributary boundaries should be clearly marked in the field with wetland flags.
This will help with agency verification.
Report: The final report should include the method of delineation, results, data forms that document the findings, photographs of the land, climate conditions before and during the time of delineation, and other relevant figures.
13. What’s the process for conducting a wetland delineation?
Step 1: Research the project area
A delineator must prepare for the delineation by reviewing all the resources available.
These include aerial photos, National Wetlands Inventory, soil survey by Natural Resource Conversation Service, topography, and relative local or state-level maps that could exist for wetlands.
If you’re working on a smaller project, a map may be all that’s needed.
For larger projects, however, it is best to determine in advance what you need the delineation to cover.
Step 2: Site visit
The delineator will then head out into the field to survey the site.
They will generally look at the hydrophytic vegetation around your property, locate the topographic break, and complete a soil sample.
Step 3: Report
The wetland delineation report should consist of the following information.
- Introduction which details the site description and purpose for the delineation
- Wetland delineation descriptions and methods which include the definition, methodology, hydrophytic vegetation, hydric/wetland soils, hydrology
- Results – Description of the wetland identified and regulatory considerations
- Tables, figures, and appendices
Wetlands, and the hydrophytic vegetation that are present on them, are essential for our ecosystems, and as such, we must work to protect them.
Be sure to pay attention to all federal, state, and local guidelines as a landowner.
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