Aquatic plants Native plants Water gardens

What You See From Your Paddle Board

Summer, heat, happiness! And life… on the shore of a lake! Oh, the lucky ones! It is while strolling on a beautiful mirror lake, comfortably seated on your Paddle Board (or in your kayak) that you realize that there are also plants that live on the water, under the water and at its edge. Let’s discover some of these aquatic plants of the beautiful calm lakes.

Strolls on the water are great opportunities to observe flora to which we have little access. Photo: Pexel

At the Water’s Edge

Your pinky has not even dipped in the lake that you notice a beautiful ball shaped shrub. It has a slightly bluish foliage and when these leaves are crumpled, a delicious smell of camphor is released. Here is the Sweet Gale (Myrica gale). This small shrub grows at the edge of the water, it is widely used for greening banks, as it tolerates flooding well. It is also found in peat bogs.

The Sweet Gale (Myrica gale) is a beautiful shrub that grows along the edges of lakes. It is used a lot in naturalizing. Photo: Julie Boudreau

At its side, in the open spaces, you may discover a small grouping of Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor). It is Quebec’s national flower emblem. This beautiful purple and white iris is not very widespread, but it is not rare either. In short, you’ll be lucky to discover some on the edge of a river or pond. Its flowering generally occurs at the same time as Quebec’s national holiday (June 24).

The Blue Flag is one of the beautiful plants of our native flora and it likes wet shores. Photo: Julie Boudreau

If you stray a little from the shore, it is possible to discover beautiful colonies of Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata). Generally concealed in small quiet bays, it is one of the most beautiful plants in the wetland, when in flower. Above the beautiful glossy heart-shaped leaves rise elongated spikes of intense mauve flowers. Impossible to go wrong when you come across this plant, because no other lakeside plant looks like it.

A large colony of Pickerel Weed. Photo: Wikipedia.

Broadleaf Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) may also be present, in a more scattered way, often with both feet in the water, sometimes inserted here and there in the colonies of Pickerel Weed. Arrowhead is well named, for it can be recognized by its arrow-shaped leaves and its white flowers, which are much more discreet and less abundant than the flowers of Pickerel Weed. Each flower, the size of a dollar coin, has three round petals. For lovers of strange plants, arrowhead is a subject of study, because the shape of the leaves varies according to the depth of the water.

An Arrowhead, through a carpet of waterlily leaves. Photo: Julie Boudreau.

On the Surface of the Water

The most beautiful flower in the pond is undoubtedly that of the Fragrant Water Lily (Nymphaea odorata). Its beautiful, rounded leaves resting on the surface of the water and its flowers opening in synchronicity with the first rays of the sun. As its name suggests, it does have a light scent and the challenge is to succeed in smelling this sweet aroma without falling in the water. The fragrant water lily likes to flourish in quiet lakes. This is why it tends to disappear where motorboats proliferate. It is also advisable not to stay too far into the mats of water lilies in a canoe or kayak.

Fragrant Water Lily. Photo: PICRYL

In the small, quiet bays, one will often see large colonies of the large Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar variegata), sometimes in the company of the water lilies. There sometimes is a little confusion between both plants. By comparing the two flowers, you will quickly see that they are not at all the same plant.

The pond lily bears yellow flowers. Photo: Julie Boudreau.

The third floating plant is often confused with water lilies or pond lilies. However, the leaf is more oval than round and the flower is an inconspicuous, burgundy thing of 5 cm (2 inches) diameter that stands a few inches above the water. This is Water Shield (Brasenia schreberi). We know less of it by name, but it is nevertheless just as present in the beautiful quiet lakes as the water lilies or pond lilies. It is a very interesting living ecosystem for dozens of species of fish and invertebrates. It is also part of the diet of nearly all ducks.

Water Shield is often mistaken for a water lily. Its leaves are perfectly oval and the flower is reddish. Photo: Julie Boudreau

Not From Here, but Quite Nice

Many exotic plants have established themselves in the aquatic setting of eastern Canada. On the edge of the water, you may observe another iris, with golden-yellow flowers, this one. It is the Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus). This iris is not native to Quebec, but it has adapted quite well and we see it here and there, throughout the province of Quebec. This beautiful iris, escaped from the gardens, does not seem to present a challenge for the moment, but our neighbors to the south are reporting strong invasions. Let’s say that it’s currently under surveillance.

Mainly present in open marshes, you will see the magnificent Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus). It is also an introduced plant, native to Eurasia, which has blended into the landscape as if it had always lived on the shores of lakes and marshes. It is easily recognized by its beautiful pale pink flowers arranged in fireworks.

Be Part of the Water Brigade: Watch Out for these Invasive Noxious Species

As everywhere else, the aquatic environment is threatened by many introduced and invasive species. Thus, we will keep an attentive eye for the presence of the Water Chestnut (Trapa natans), which unfortunately has nothing to do with its namesake sold in tin cans (Eleocharis dulcis). The “mean” Water Chestnut spreads rosettes of leaves on the surface of the water which resemble those of the poplars.

Like a miniature water lily, the European Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) is also to be watched. This plant has small round leaves, one or two inches in diameter (1 to 6 cm), which can cover large areas. The flower is white. In its case, we are mainly monitoring its introduction into new wetlands. Boat cleaning programs serve this specific purpose.

Finally, now well known to motorboat enthusiasts, the Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) is arguably the best-documented invasive aquatic plant. The leaves, in whorls, look like small feathers floating between two waters. The plant can colonize the entirety of a lake or pond and once again, the main objective is to prevent the contamination of new lakes. Here too, the obligatory washing stations find their importance. In the case of this plant, it is important to properly identification it before you bring out the big guns. Indeed, there are seven species native to eastern America that pose no ecological threat.

The presence of an abundance of aquatic and shoreline plants is a sign of good health for a lake. A curious paddler can discover nearly a hundred different species and even some small treasures, such as orchids or gentians. Delight in the presence of this aquatic flora, which in addition to maintaining the fragile ecological balance of the wetland, helps to embellish Paddle Board rides.

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

1 comment on “What You See From Your Paddle Board

  1. Christine Lemieux

    Great article. I will try to identify the ones I don’t know next time I am on a lake.

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