Aquatic Wildflowers for Pollinators

Florida is a great place to garden near or in water with native wildflowers and plants. You’ll find a variety of areas where water is a permanent or temporary feature of the landscape including:

  • Natural or man-made ponds or lakes.
  • Graded stormwater retention ponds that collect and gradually drain excess rain runoff.
  • Swales or ditches beside roadways that prevent excess water from reaching the road.
  • Excavated rain gardens, which catch and utilize rain runoff from roofs and driveways.

All of these have the potential to become pollinator gardens as well as important habitat for a variety of insects and birds. Using a diverse slate of plants is the key to creating an area that supplies food, nesting areas and lifecycle support for a large variety of fauna.

Leafcutter bee on Pickerelweed
Leafcutter bee (Megachile sp.) on Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata). Photo by Mary Keim

Know Your Aquatic Plant Zones

Ponds, lakes and rain gardens with shallow graded slopes and deeper central pools are ideal for a variety of plants. Different water depths support different plant species, depending on their root structure and capacity for saturation. It is important to match each species with its preferred soil conditions: 

  • Upland areas sit above the shoreline and may have moderately to very dry, well-drained soils since water drains downslope. Upland areas include hardwood hammock, pine flatwoods, scrub, dry prairie and pine rockland habitats. 
  • Shoreline plants occur from the upland area to the water’s edge. They are adapted to moist or saturated soils and can tolerate periodic inundation. This is the optimal zone for planting aquatic wildflowers.
  • Emergent plants are found in shallow water (up to 2 feet deep). Their roots may be temporarily or permanently underwater, while plant stems and leaves grow above water and adapt to changing water levels. These plants provide fish habitat, reduce water nutrients and improve water clarity.
  • Floating plants occur in water up to 4 feet deep. They may be rooted in the soil or free-floating. Proper spacing of rooted plants will ensure sunlight reaches the pond floor.
  • Submerged plants occur in deep open water where sunlight can still penetrate to aid in plant growth. 

Planting and Maintenance Tips

Use a variety of wildflowers blooming in spring, summer and fall. Plant sparsely in clusters if you are using colonizing plants. Some species may spread quickly by root or rhizomes as they stabilize soil banks. Plants that are not in standing water may require watering for several weeks to become established.

Herbaceous perennials may die back in winter but will still provide habitat and nesting material. Plan on yearly maintenance to thin plant colonies by removing dead vegetation as needed. Refresh plants in spring by trimming old stems and be sure to remove pruned debris so water movement is not impaired. Excess debris that sinks to the pond floor can reduce oxygen levels and water clarity.

Retention ponds with steep sides may pose planting challenges due to drainage patterns. Determining the average water level is critical for successful plant establishment. Avoid excessive plantings that prevent the pond from achieving its purpose of controlling water runoff. Before planting, check county and local policies for planting in stormwater management ponds.

Great wildflowers for aquatic landscapes

Hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) on Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata

Swamp milkweed

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) has showy pink flowers that typically bloom in summer and attracts many pollinators. It is a larval host for Monarch, Queen and Soldier butterflies.
Read more… Swamp milkweed

Swamp milkweed

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis) blooms in late spring through early fall and attracts many pollinators. It is a larval host plant for Monarch, Queen and Soldier butterflies.
Read more… Swamp milkweed

Lemon bacopa

Lemon bacopa (Bacopa caroliniana) is a low-growing, herbaceous wildflower that typically blooms late spring through fall, but can bloom year-round. Its nectar attracts a variety of small pollinators.
Read more… Lemon bacopa

Herb-of-grace

Herb-of-grace (Bacopa monnieri) is a creeping, mat-forming perennial that occurs naturally in coastal hammocks and swales, salt marshes, freshwater marshes and swamps, and along river, stream and ditch edges.
Read more… Herb-of-grace
Burr marigold flower

Burr marigold

Burr marigold (Bidens laevis) is an annual wildflower with bright yellow flowers that bloom in late fall through early winter. They attract many bees and butterflies.
Read more… Burr marigold
Hairy chaffhead, Carphephorus paniculatus

Hairy chaffhead

Hairy chaffhead (Carphephorus paniculatus) is a stunning perennial wildflower found in moist flatwoods and savannas. It typically blooms from late August through December, with peak flowering in October.
Read more… Hairy chaffhead
Mistflower blooms

Mistflower

Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) gives the appearance of a blue fog when blooming en masse. Its flowers are very attractive to pollinators, especially butterflies, moths and long-tongued bees.
Read more… Mistflower
String lily

String lily

Also known as Seven sisters or Swamp lily, String lily (Crinum americanum) is an erect, emergent perennial with showy, fragrant blooms. It is found in wet hammocks, marshes, swamps, wetland…
Read more… String lily
Comfortroot, Hibiscus aculeatus

Comfortroot

Comfortroot (Hibiscus aculeatus) is a large perennial wildflower with showy cream-colored flowers. They typically bloom late spring through fall and attract many pollinators, especially bees.
Read more… Comfortroot
Scarlet hibiscus bloom

Scarlet hibiscus

Scarlet hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) has large, crimson blooms that attract hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators. They remain open for only one day, but the plant produces many flowers throughout the…
Read more… Scarlet hibiscus
Blue skyflower

Blue skyflower

The beauty of the brilliant Blue skyflower (Hydrolea corymbose) cannot be clouded! This herbaceous perennial wildflower goes largely unnoticed — that is, until its bright blue blooms appear.
Read more… Blue skyflower

Alligatorlily

Alligatorlily (Hymenocallis palmeri) is a perennial wildflower endemic to cypress swamps, marshes, wet prairies, savannas and moist open flatwoods in Florida’s central and southern peninsula.
Read more… Alligatorlily
Prairie iris, Iris hexagona

Prairie iris

Prairie iris (Iris savannarum) is an emergent aquatic with showy flowers that bloom in spring. It has one of America’s largest native iris flowers.
Read more… Prairie iris
Virginia willow, Iitea virginica

Virginia willow

Virginia willow (Itea virginica) is a spreading shrub with showy spikes of tiny white flowers that bloom late winter through early summer. The plant provides food and cover for wildlife…
Read more… Virginia willow
Palamedes swallowtail on Dense gayfeather, Liatris spicata

Dense gayfeather

Dense gayfeather (Liatris spicata) has striking spikes of purple flowers that bloom late summer through fall and are excellent attractors of butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects.
Read more… Dense gayfeather
Christmasberry's lavender flowers

Christmasberry

Christmasberry (Lycium carolinianum) gets its common name from the many bright red, egg-shaped berries it produces in December. While toxic to some animals, they are favored by many birds.
Read more… Christmasberry
Goldenclub, Orontium aquaticum

Goldenclub

Goldenclub (Orontium aquaticum) is a peculiar wildflower that blooms in winter and spring, and is pollinated primarily by bees, flies and beetles. It is the only living species in its…
Read more… Goldenclub
Butterweed flowers and buds

Butterweed

Butterweed (Packera glabella) is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in early spring. It grows in dense stands that illuminate moist roadsides and river edges.
Read more… Butterweed
Frogfruit flowers

Frogfruit

Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) is both a versatile and vital wildflower. This evergreen perennial is low-growing and creeping, often forming dense mats of green foliage.
Read more… Frogfruit
Leafcutter bee on Pickerelweed

Pickerelweed

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) typically blooms in spring through summer and occurs naturally in open, aquatic habitats such as pond, lake or river edges, marshes and swamps.
Read more… Pickerelweed
Bee approaching Sagittaria flower

Arrowhead

Arrowhead (Sagittaria spp.) is an emergent aquatic wildflower that typically blooms spring through fall. The flowers attract a variety of pollinators. The fruits are eaten by birds and other wildlife.
Read more… Arrowhead
Seaside goldenrod flower stalk with bees

Seaside goldenrod

The conspicuous golden blooms of Seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) are found on dunes, in tidal marshes, bogs and sandy flatwoods, along roadsides and in disturbed areas in Florida’s coastal counties…
Read more… Seaside goldenrod
Climbing aster flower

Climbing aster

Climbing aster (Symphyotrichum carolinianum) is a robust vine-like shrub that produces many fragrant daisy-like lavender to pinkish blooms. It is an excellent nectar source for many butterflies and bees.
Read more… Climbing aster
close-up of a Wood sage inflorescence in bloom

Wood sage

Also known as Canadian germander, Wood sage (Teucrium canadense) flowers attract a variety of native long-tongued insects that will use the flower’s lower lip as a landing pad. Birds find…
Read more… Wood sage

Alligatorflag

Alligatorflag (Thalia geniculata) occurs naturally in wetland depressions and cypress sloughs, and along the edges of marshes, swamps and wet ditches. It typically blooms summer through fall.
Read more… Alligatorflag
Other plants for aquatic landscapes