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A complement to waterlilies – pickerelweed

By Ralph E. Mitchell

Four-inch purple flower spike

The four-inch purple flower spike is attractive to butterflies – UF/IFAS Photos: Sally Lanigan.

Pickerelweed is a perennial aquatic plant that is common in our area waters.  Beautiful purple-blue flower spikes rise above the dark-green lance-like, heart-shaped foliage.  If you do not have a pond – no problem!  Pickerelweed makes a great water garden subject and a nice complement to waterlilies.

The perfect shallow water plant, pickerelweed must be planted in water no deeper than twelve inches.  Water too much deeper will inhibit their growth, so this characteristic will keep it somewhat self-limiting along a littoral shelf.  On the other hand, pickerelweed is considered an aggressive plant, and this native will relatively quickly colonize its niche in the aquatic ecosystem.    Beneficial in small ponds, this herbaceous fast-growing plant can help stabilize the pond bank.  Ideal as a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ plant for stormwater pond shorelines, pickerelweed will also adapt nicely to water garden tubs or small pools.   Ranging from half whiskey barrel-like containers and shallow tubs to rigid plastic liners suitable for in-ground installation, small water gardens can be a fun horticultural activity.

Pickerelweed is propagated by divisions and is best installed in full sun about four-feet apart.  Plan for each plant to grow around three feet tall and spread over time into a thick patch.  If you have a small water garden, you can limit the growth of your pickerelweed by first planting it in a container without drainage holes.

Pickerelweed flower spikes are favored by butterflies and a variety of wildlife including ducks.  Each individual tubular flower in the spike lasts for only a day, but numerus buds are ready on the spike to take their place the next day from spring to fall.

You should not harvest pickerelweed directly from the wild as it is readily available from native plant nurseries in our area – I have even seen it in a box store garden center on occasion.  Now while the normal color of pickerelweed is a shade of purple-blue, there are white-flowering cultivars as well as an in-between pink type which can give a nice twist to your color palette.  Pickerelweed will give you some nice height accenting floating plants such as waterlilies.  Coupled with yellow cannas and perhaps horsetail, pickerelweed will stand out and complement these other water garden residents.

Pickerelweed, by itself, or with other aquatic ornamental plants, will make a summertime favorite and unique conversation starter!  For more information on all types of ornamental aquatic plants suitable for our area, or to ask a question, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/.   Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Resources:
Gilman,   E. F. (2014) Pontederia cordata Pickerel Weed.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS
UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions – Pickerel Weed.  (2020) The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS
Pickerelweed – Pontederia cordata. (2020)  Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, University of Florida, IFAS
Hansen, G. & Hu, S. (2019) Florida-Friendly Plants for Stormwater Pond Shorelines. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS

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