A true blue water garden plant: Pickerel Weed

Pickerel Weed flower

Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata) is currently blooming in a pot sitting in my little front yard water garden.  I love this native water-lover for its deep, true-blue flowers and its knack for attracting pollinators, including many species of butterflies. I’ve seen hummingbirds stop by for visits too.

Pickerel Weed is described as an “emergent aquatic” by botanists, which means its roots like to sit in shallow water, while its leaves and flowers grow up out of the water. A typical flower spike is between one and two feet tall. Its flowers open from the bottom up on the spike.

This common native (the entire eastern half of the United States) likes shallow, quiet water — slow stream edges and ponds. According to various sources, it can be weedy, even clogging up the edges of ponds or streams. If you are concerned about it spreading, the simple solution is to grow it in pots submerged in shallow water.

That’s what I do, but I did it because I wanted the flowers in my water garden. When my pots of Pickerel Weed become overgrown with rhizomes, I remove some of them. I’ve tried planting them in a small pond on my floodplain, but they never last long. The deer invariably eat them into nothingness during summer droughts when they can easily reach the plants.

I wish I could get some established along my quiet creek and pond. The seeds are supposed to be a favorite food of ducks, so I know the Wood Ducks that paddle my stream would appreciate the presence of Pickerel Weed. And the submerged parts of the plants are supposed to be favorite habitat for small fish, which do inhabit my little creek and could benefit from more cover.

Alas, unless I can figure out a way to protect the plants from deer without inhibiting their growth, I may never manage to grow any outside of pots in my water feature. That’s a shame, because my sources tell me that the dried seeds are edible and can be mixed in with granola; the very young shoots are supposed to make tasty salad greens. However, I’m not willing to eat the few plants growing in my water feature, so I may never know how tasty Pickerel Weed can be — unless I can persuade the deer to tell me.

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