Wildlife gardening – native pond plants

Native pond plants

Discover 16 British natives to use for your wildlife pond, including oxygenating, floating and marginal plants.

Pond plants play an important role in a pond’s ecosystem, providing food and habitats for a huge range of wildlife. Submerged leaves, stems and roots offer shade and protection for aquatic larvae, while marginal plants provide an egg-laying habitat for newts and tall stems provide a climbing perch for dragonfly nymphs. What’s more, submerged vegetation maintains oxygen levels in the water, while floating plants covering up to two thirds of the surface, prevent the build up of algae and pond weed.

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By using native plants in your pond, you’re growing the plants found in British streams, ponds and waterways. These plants are typically better for aquatic wildlife because they have evolved together. Native pond plants are also far less likely to cause harm if they end up in the wild. Pond plants are extremely vigorous and some non-natives cause serious problems in the wild, out-competing native plants that provide food and habitats for wildlife.

When you come to choose natives for your pond, ensure you have a good mix of oxygenating, floating and marginal plants, to provide habitat and cover for all depths of water. Oxygenators grow mainly underwater, producing oxygen and absorbing impurities. Floating and emergent plants cover the water surface, providing shade below, and marginals thrive at the edges of the pond, growing in shallow water or damp soil.

There are two water lilies native to the British Isles – Nymphaea alba and Nymphaea lutea. Find out how to plant water lilies in this video clip from Gardeners’ World:

Find out which native pond plants are suitable for your pond, below.


1

Water violet, Hottonia palustris

Feathery water violet fronds underwater
Feathery water violet fronds underwater

Water violet is an oxygenating plant that sits below the surface of the water. Its main roots grow directly in mud but it has other, silvery roots which trail in the water. Grow in full sun to partial shade.


2

Water soldiers, Stratiotes aloides

Adding two water soldiers plants to a pond
Adding two water soldiers plants to a pond

Water soldiers is an exotic looking oxygenating plant, which remains submerged from autumn to spring and rises to the surface in the summer, to flower. Male plants bear clusters of white flowers, while those on female plants are singular. They propagate by offsets. Grow in full sun to partial shade.


3

Frogbit, Hydrocharis morsus-ranae

A frogbit plant with small, round lily-pad-like leaves held in a hand
A frogbit plant with small, round lily-pad-like leaves held in a hand

Frogbit is a floating plant with trailing roots and rounded leaves like lily pads. In summer it produces white flowers with a yellow spot on each petal. It overwinters as dormant bus at the bottom of the pond. Grow in sun to partial shade.


4

Water forget-me-not, Myosotis scorpiodes

Tiny blue flowers of water forget-me-not
Tiny blue flowers of water forget-me-not

Water forget-me-not is a marginal plant with a long flowering season (May to September). It thrives in wet soil but will also grow completely submerged. It often grows into large mats that sit on the surface of the pond. Newts use the leaves to lay eggs. Grow in sun or shade.


5

Arrowhead, Sagittaria sagittifolia

Arrowhead-shaped leaves of the arrowhead plant
Arrowhead-shaped leaves of the arrowhead plant

Arrowhead thrives in shallow water 10-50cm deep, and has arrow-head-shaped leaves and pretty white flowers in summer. Its tall stems enable dragonfly nymphs to emerge from the pond before their final metamorphosis into an adult. The deeper you plant this, the larger the leaves will grow. Sun to partial shade.


6

Brooklime, Veronica beccabunga

Oval leaves of brooklime
Oval leaves of brooklime

Brooklime has small blue flowers with a white centre. It’s a fast grower, but is easy to keep under control. It’s best grown at the edge of the pond, where it will merge with the surrounding garden. Newts will use the leaves to lay eggs. Sun or shade.


7

Marsh marigold, Caltha palustris

Marsh marigold, Caltha palustris
Marsh marigold, Caltha palustris

Marsh marigold, also known as kingcup, is an aquatic marginal with heart-shaped leaves and pretty yellow flowers which are rich in pollen and nectar. Its tall stems are useful for dragonfly nymphs to climb before their final metamorphosis into adults. Sun or partial shade.


8

Spiked water milfoil, Myriophyllum spicatum

Spiked water milfoil, Myriophyllum spicatum
Spiked water milfoil, Myriophyllum spicatum

Spiked water milfoil is an oxygenating plant that sits below the water’s surface and can grow at great depths. With its dense, feathery growth, it’s perfect for sheltering tadpoles and other aquatic invertebrates. It bears small erect red flowers in summer. Grow in clear water in full sun.


9

Water crowfoot, Ranunculus aquatilis

Water crowfoot, Ranunculus aquatilis
Water crowfoot, Ranunculus aquatilis

Water crowfoot has two types of leaves – branching, spiked leaves which sit under water, and toothed, lobed leaves that float on the water’s surface. A short-lived perennial, it bears poached-egg type flowers in May. Grow in full sun.


10

Yellow flag iris, Iris pseudacorus

Yellow flag iris, Iris pseudacorus
Yellow flag iris, Iris pseudacorus

Yellow flag iris is a marginal plant with tall stems, perfect for emerging dragonfly nymphs. It bears bright yellow flowers in summer. Grow in full sun to partial shade.


11

Water mint, Mentha aquatica

Water mint, Mentha aquatica
Water mint, Mentha aquatica

Water mint is a marginal plant suited to boggy conditions or growing at the water’s edge. It as oval, toothed and fragrant leaves, from which clusters of pink flowers appear in summer. The flowers are well-loved by pollinators.Grow in su or shade.


12

Marsh woundwort, Stachys palustris

Marsh woundwort, Stachys palustris
Marsh woundwort, Stachys palustris

Marsh woundwort is a marginal plant with pikes of purple flowers that are very attractive to bumblebees. Grow in full sun.


13

Hornwort, Ceratophyllum demersum

Hornwort, Ceratophyllum demersum
Hornwort, Ceratophyllum demersum

Hornwort is an oxygenating plant that sits below the water’s surface. It grows into huge bunches and makes the perfect habitat for tadpoles and other aquatic larvae. Grow in full sun to full shade.


14

Water avens, Geum rivale

Water avens, Geum rivale
Water avens, Geum rivale

Water avens is a perennial of damp habitats, such as the pond edge. It bears nodding pink flowers with attractive purple sepals. Grow in full sun to partial shade.


15

Purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria

Purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria
Purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria

Purple loosestrife thrives in boggy soils and is perfect for growing in bog gardens and at the water’s edge. It bears tall spikes of bright purple flowers, which are a magnet for bees and other pollinators. Grow in full sun.


16

White robin, Lychnis flos-cuculi

White robin, Lychnis flos cuculi
White robin, Lychnis flos cuculi
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A native of wet meadows, ragged robin (and white robin, pictured) is perfect for the pond edge. It bears pretty pink or white flowers from May. Grow in damp soil in full sun.


Kate Bradbury says

Brooklime and water forget-me-not are favourite plants of newts, which lay their eggs individually on leaves.

Kate Bradbury